PLOTVila and Tarrant are on a mission to pick up cyberneticist Muller (John Westbrook) so that he doesn’t fall into the clutches of the Robot Development Cartel – Muller’s brain would be their most profitable asset, as his lover Vena (Lynda Bellingham) explains to Avon at Xenon Base. Vena also says that Muller has been pushed to the limit recently, although this is unsurprising given that his first teacher was Orac’s creator, Ensor, a tyrant for self-discipline.
Vila and Tarrant receive a call from Muller, who requests that they pick him up directly from his lab in order to avoid the clutches of the Cartel. Tarrant obliges, where he finds Muller with a box and a dead body under a table. A technician (Douglas Fielding) nearly hampers their escape, but both teleport out successfully. Tarrant has also taken the box with him, much to Muller’s horror. Muller orders Tarrant to send the box back, and attacks him violently. Vila comes to the rescue by knocking him out, although the blow is too hard as Muller is pronounced dead by Tarrant. While they return to base, Avon has the thankless task of breaking Muller’s death to an upset Vena.
Vila tries to open the box, but every time he does, a power surge occurs on the Scorpio. Slave starts behaving oddly, as does Orac on Xenon Base, who pipes up with unsolicited advice. Orac suggests that Vila and Tarrant be left in quarantine until the problem is diagnosed. Avon initially agrees, but when life support, heat and oxygen run out on the ship, he angrily orders Orac to restore the teleport.
Soolin and Dayna rescue Vila and Tarrant, and take them to the resuscitation room. Avon and Vena teleport up to Scorpio to find Muller’s corpse which has been put in a medi-capsule, but he is no longer there. In fact, he has teleported back down to Xenon Base, and has knocked out Dayna. Vena goes to greet Muller, but she is killed when he squeezes the life out of her. Avon opens fire, but Muller now has the ability to fry his gun to a lump of charcoal. The group runs out, taking the box along with them.
Dayna ambushes Muller with a grenade, which buries the man, and apparently kills him. However, Muller rises to his feet – minus his head. In fact, the body is an android, the one that Muller spent his whole life creating. The android confronts the group and explains that Muller’s head was used to trick them. The android demands Orac, claiming that it plans to unite with the computer to form a single powerful being.
Avon and the others escape. Having discovered that the box contained the original android head, Avon plans to lure the android into a trap in order to attach its head back on. As Avon wires up an outside bridge, Tarrant and Dayna go to the generator house to link the power through. Vila and Soolin act as decoys, taking Orac with them, so that the android will follow.
The android follows them to the bridge, where it explodes, leaving ‘Muller’ motionless. Avon attaches the head, but the power surge knocks him out. Dragging him to safety, the others elect to blow the android up into tiny pieces (rather than have it as a possible weapon), much to a groggy Avon’s fury.
ANALYSISMachinery becoming god? There’s a scary thought. Although it’s not an impossible one, given our preoccupation with technology these days. Headhunter’s central theme of computer omnipotence goes one stage further than Moloch, leaving Muller’s android making Moloch look like a goal-less amateur.
Being something of a technology Luddite myself (I can barely switch on the computer without it crashing) I can relate easily to Headhunter’s warnings about all-powerful technology. Which is something of a relief, since after the last two stories, I was worried that Season Four really was shaping up to be a stinker. Luckily, this story gets the season on the right road again, with an enjoyable plot and a well-written script from Roger Parkes, his third and final contribution to the series.
The plot does nicely contrast the technological ambitions of Muller with the tip of the hat to old horror films, particularly Frankenstein. There’s something Grand Guignol about the feel of the episode with Muller’s head badly stitched onto the android. There’s also the traditional doomed femme fatale, who inevitably comes to a sticky end – apparently it’s possible to hug someone to death, although Friends nearly proved that back in the 1990s.
Parkes’ script contains some good material for the regulars, who for once, get an equal share of the action. Even Soolin gets a chance to make her mark, with a dry sense of humour creeping through (especially with her slightly risque reply to Orac about fulfilment of desire). Dayna and Tarrant are less annoying this time around, the latter being more of a proactive thinker – even if he still remains a smug know-it-all with bad hair. And on the subject of hair, Avon’s gel is now so strong that it’d probably survive a nuclear blast.
As with his other contributions, its refreshing to see Parkes has done his homework, with references to Ensor, and in particular, his fussy, disciplinarian attitude to life (as seen in Season One finale Orac). The story is full of atmosphere, particularly the eerie scenes of the darkened Scorpio bridge and Muller’s shadow skulking about on Xenon Base.
Mary Ridge is back on form again after her slight wobble on the previous Animals, and adds much to Headhunter’s flavour. Her small cast is well chosen. John Westbrook has the perfect voice for Muller, while a pre-Oxo Lynda Bellingham does well as the luckless Vena. In fact the only real quibble is the android, which staggers about like a drunken pantomime horse, looking rather silly. The non-stop bellows of “OOOOORRRRAAAAAC!!!” get a bit tiresome after a short while too.
But all in all, this is a welcome return to quality Blake’s 7. In fact, the nondescript Games notwithstanding, the rest of the season shapes up to be consistently good. Headhunter also contains the theme of losing the fight against the Federation, since maybe the android could, as Avon says, become a valuable weapon against their nemeses, and in particular, Servalan. Still, that would have been too easy, and since when does Blake’s 7 make life easy for its characters?
A strong story, Headhunter restores season four to glory again after its recent wobbles, and paves the way for greater things to come.
Check out our review of season 4 episode 5 here.