I have a new game I play when I watch Blake’s 7. It’s not a drinking game, although I’m pretty sure the drunker you are, the better the show is. No, it’s very simple: just as the title card comes up (bwwwaaaaa…) I close my eyes (bwwwaaa…) and then I have to see how quickly I can guess who has written the episode.
Now, I was vaguely aware that Ben Steed had written more than one episode because of something muttered in the opening episode of fan podcast Down and Safe (if you get the chance, I urge you to download it and listen yourself). And I knew it couldn’t be Trevor Hoyle, because he’s just had a turn. I didn’t for a second think it was Terry Nation, but I might have guessed him before I guessed Chris Boucher or Robert Holmes. Their work, as I said in relation to 'Rumours of Death', is happening in two different eras of television. Terry Nation’s still essentially writing for the 60s. Chris Boucher’s story structures can be seen on BBC 1 today.
Ben Steed, on the other hand, writes for the era that time and taste and all right thinking people forgot. I pegged this one as his, as soon as the mysterious overseer (later revealed as Moloch, later revealed as a malignant computer, later revealed as a small felt glove puppet with one eye) told the Federation troopers what to do with the woman who has betrayed their whereabouts to the Liberator.
“Give her to your men.”
Now, it’s all very well for me to big up Chris Boucher as the better writer – but it should also be highlighted that he was the script editor for this season. I like to believe that Boucher saw strong female characters as an important element of the show – as character outlines, Dayna, Cally and Servalan are all stronger figures than virtually any other character but Avon. ‘Rumours of Death’ pivots on a strong, complex, dangerous female character – and even when Servalan is tied to a wall, she has maximum power.
So how could he let through a script where women are implicitly raped offscreen; where, in fact, there are only two female characters in the story so that this particular form of violence can be employed? Steed is, perhaps, trying to demonstrate the depravity of the planet’s rulers, an echo of the child abuse storyline in the series’ pilot episode: except that the tone of those stories was 1984, and this one feels more like a surreal episode of Allo Allo. Vila happens to befriend a misogynistic murderer, and when he’s told he’s going to be given a woman for serving the Federation, he trots along looking really quite cheerful about it.
Stinky old Carol on Vila-world wouldn’t be very pleased to hear about this.
I mean, you don’t need to hear it all again, I don’t need to say it all again, but Servalan gets humiliated by one of her officers, again. Cally spends the whole episode working the teleport, and manages to get that wrong, twice. Dayna does nothing in the episode but ask Avon questions (not very different from last episode). I’m expecting at least one of the female regulars to leave next season. And I bet there’ll be another bloody awful Ben Steed story then too.
The story is a mess, with a magic computer on an invisible planet and too many people making overly complicated plans with it. The design is lazy, the effects work is dreadful (is that really supposed to look like a human being floating in that tank?) and in the conclusion, the plot just self destructs: Moloch, the hyper advanced alien, can’t survive without his life support machine and Avon runs away from Servalan (who has a teleport bracelet, and didn’t manage to kill Vila or Tarrant when she was face to shoulder-pad with them).
What’s really sad is that I see we are nearing the end of this season. This time last season, everything was gearing up toward the destruction of Star One – this time around, there’s absolutely no continuity at all and no sense of direction. Where is Servalan going? Where is Avon going?