Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 2 – Power

Popular sci-fi subject the battle of the sexes makes a slightly overbearing return to Blake's 7...

Dayna in Power

THE PLOTDespite comfier surroundings than Terminal, the crew are still stranded. Vila’s trying to work his way through the door without any luck in the face of constant harrassment from Tarrant and Dayna, who don’t want to be reduced to a diet of nuts and berries.

Avon, on the other hand, is out on the Xenon surface, but is captured by a group of men who belong to a race called the Hommiks. Avon is taken before their leader, the overbearing Gunn-Sar (Dicken Ashworth), who questions him about his need for dynamon crystals, and more to the point, indicates that he needs Avon’s knowledge about computers. But when Avon intervenes after Gunn-Sar nearly strikes his wife Nina (Jenny Oulton), Gunn-Sar challenges him to a fight to the death – Avon may well be his 26th or 27th victim.

With Tarrant and Dayna looking for the missing Avon, Vila is interrupted by the leader of the opposing tribe to the Hommiks, the Seska, Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill). Pella tells Vila that the door to the silo has been set by Dorian and that every 48 hours, he must say a coded password to gain entry. If he doesn’t, then there will be a huge nuclear compression charge.

A visibly shocked Pella doesn’t react well when Vila tells her of Dorian’s death, since he gives the Seska food. Pella stuns Vila with some sort of psychic wave, and leaves to join her two Seska friends Kate (Alison Glennie) and Luxia (Linda Barr).

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Avon is taken to the fighting zone outside. Instead of one of the many weapons, he chooses a simple glove. He may have had cause to regret this after Gunn-Sar seems to gain the upper hand with his sword. But Avon makes his way to a hatch, where he opens it and uses the glove to hold a heliofusion rod that destroys Gunn-sar’s weapon. Avon realises that Gunn-Sar knows nothing about the technology on the planet, but is knocked out by one of Gunn-Sar’s men before he can speak further.

The Seska are ambushed by Gunn-Sar’s men. Kate is badly wounded, but manages to escape and heals herself with a special compound. Pella and Luxia are captured and taken to Gunn-Sar’s domain. Pella is thrown into the dungeon along with Avon. She tells Avon that they must find and rescue Luxia before she is operated on. The band around their necks will be removed and they will no longer be Seska. Oddly, the guard on the door has been knocked out by a rock, and they make their escape.

Tarrant and Dayna ask Vila how it is possible for Pella to walk through a locked door, and how it is possible to overcome the override switch to the silo. Seeking answers from Orac, the computer tells them that the answers may be on a series of chronicle discs. They discover that the Seska are involved in a war of the sexes with the Hommiks, and that a reference point is A-F Hill. They go to find the reference point outside, but are agian ambushed by Gunn-sar’s men.

Avon and Pella are too late to save Luxia from being operated on. Pella is aghast to see that Nina -a former Seska has carried out the operation. Nina tells Pella that she is now a woman rather than a Seska and leaves. Pella attempts to stop Avon taking Luxia’s neckband with a wave of power, but Avon is too strong for her, and escapes.

He goes to a computer room, armed with a crossbow, to confront Gunn-Sar’s lackey Cato (Paul Ridley). Cato explains that a war destroyed the planet’s civilisation long ago, but before he can tell Avon about the Seska, a bolt fires itself at Cato’s chest. Confused at Cato’s death, Avon is not surprised to find Pella behind him. Pella uses her psychic strength to knock Avon out with a keyboard and then, makes off with Luxia’s neckband.

Dayna has challenged Gunn-Sar to a fight to the death. And with a little help from Pella and Kate, Gunn-Sar is flung back against a panel with such force that he is knocked out and killed. Tarrant, Vila and Dayna rush back to demand answers from Orac. Orac tells them that the Seska use telekinesis, and sure, enough Pella hereslf confirms the answer, having entered with Kate.

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Pella demands access to the Scorpio, since it is their only form of contact with civilisation. Dorian had sought the Seska’s knowledge of tele-ergonomics and energy transference for a teleport in return for nutrients. The code word Narcissus apparently has to be used to get the door open, but when Tarrant tries it, it doesn’t work.

Avon enters and tells the group that Orac made it up. Avon explains that there is a wheel on the other side of the door and that Dorian’s last attempt at the teleport was a tele-ergotron, a controlled direction of pure energy. Pella points a gun at Dayna’s head and forces Avon to open the door. Avon complies, and Pella (shooting Kate in the process) makes her escape to the Scorpio. Avon takes a crystal from Kate’s neckband, and making a calculated guess, inserts the crystal into the teleport system on Xenon base. His gamble works and he successfully teleports across to the Scorpio where he shoots Pella dead.

The others teleport aboard too, as does Soolin, who, having emerged from hiding, offers her skills to the group…   

ANALYSISIf I was a betting man in 1981, and I’d had inside knowledge that Ben Steed was to pen one of the early Season 4 episodes, I’d have put good money on that episode containing yet another diatribe on the battle of the sexes. And hey, what do you know? Steed doesn’t disappoint. Just think, I could have been living in the lap of luxury by now, with a swanky mansion, a fast car and piles of cash to burn.

Power takes Steed’s rather baffling obsession with this subject to the maximum. On the planet Xenon, there literally is a battle of the sexes taking place between the Seska, a group of ethereal women with a line in floaty dresses and psychic power – and the Hommiks, a band of rough and ready ruffians who look like a gaggle of Status Quo roadies. Unlike his previous offerings though, Steed’s message is less ambiguous this time around.

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The way I read it is that Steed essentially equates the Seska with bra-burning, right-on feminists. Initially, Steed portrays Gunn-Sar as the Big Bad. He’s an overpowering and arrogant  bully who thinks nothing nothing of hitting his wife Nina.

In fact, Gunn-Sar turns out to be both a bit thick and a bit of a softy. He likes tapestry and despite his earlier behaviour, actually seems to have a genuinely happy relationship with Nina. Gunn-Sar’s manner is just an act for his followers – after he’s given his pompous speech, he quietly says to Avon that he has to say that every time he goes into combat.

The Seska, on the other hand, and in particular, Pella, don’t seem to be a happy lot. Pella has more pent-up rage inside her than a driver stuck in peak time traffic on the M1. Pella is ultimately revealed to be two-faced and treacherous, only concerned about getting her hands on the Scorpio, and even killing her fellow Seska Kate in the process.

It’s telling that former Seska Nina tells the others that she is a ‘woman’ and what’s more seems to be happy being a woman. I guess that Steed is trying to say that women should be comfortable with who they are rather than trying to make some political statement. Imagine what would have happened if this was a Doctor Who story featuring Sarah Jane. Now that would have been interesting. Women’s Lib, what Women’s Lib?

Of course, though, Steed has to cloud the issue of his rather laboured argument with all sorts of confusing signals and occasionally ham-fisted, trite dialogue – the worst being the knuckle-suckingly awful reference to Dayna as “the black girl must win”.

What other girl is there besides Dayna? Unless the Seska know more about Gunn-Sar than they’re letting on! Ironically, the worst of the dialogue doesn’t come from Gunn-Sar (who’s more of a satirical stereotyped MAN in the same way that Jarvik from Harvest Of Kairos was).

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Avon, on the other hand, is reduced to making big, grand speeches a la Captain Kirk about how if you have wars between the sexes, then you run out of people. Despite this, Avon still finds the time to give Pella a crafty snog in between arguments. I don’t know, one minute Avon’s snogging the girl, next minute he shoots her at point blank range. The whole of this subplot just feels contrived and pointless.

Power is still reasonably entertaining though, if a bit formulaic. While Steed’s clunky manifesto threatens to obscure the story, his plot is still well worked out with plenty of twists, and his dialogue can be quite witty and amusing in places.

The guest cast are generally good, especially Dicken Ashworth as Gunn-Sar and Juliet Hammond-Hill as Pella (Hammond-Hill was also doing the rounds as Miss Hawk in cult kids favourite, Look And Read: Dark Towers at the same time that Power went out).

The production is pretty standard fare with sludgy quarries, gothic castles and bad wigs, but it’s well shot, the fight scenes are well executed and overall, it’s another strong contribution from Mary Ridge, who proves to be just as adept at producing straightforward action stories alongside her moody tension-builders.

Although the last of Steed’s scripts broadcasts his message the loudest, it’s baffling as to why he’s got such an issue with this subject. Heck, it was 25 years before the horrors of Loose Women and its coven of shrieking witches. Without the rants, Steed’s stories are cleverly plotted and occasionally witty, and I guess that Blake’s 7 fans would prefer this to non-stop soapbox domestics.  

Check out our review of season 4 episode 1 here.

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