I let out an involuntary groan as the name ‘Ben Steed’ appeared on my screen. After last week’s episode, which rewrote Dayna as Jo Grant, disposed of the only other season regular as if she was a bunch of carnations that had gone past their prime, and featured the new regular, Soolin, as something of a Bond girl, ostensibly deadly but (within those 45 minutes) mostly decorative, we have an adventure from the author of The One Where Servalan Gets Humiliated By A Bloke In A Tracksuit and The One Where A Glove Puppet Disguised As A Computer Orders Men to Molest Woman As Punishment.
I am, perhaps, a little unfair. The interesting thing about Steed is that he is determined to make misogynistic violence a theme. Servalan’s awful boyfriend is, ultimately, just Steed trying to write Travis – he’s a villain and he doesn’t survive the story. Moloch and the Federation baddies are greedy, ineffectual fascists – the one eyed hand puppet symbolises them neatly. In this story, the woman-hating Hommicks are stupid primitives, fighting a bunch of beautiful women so clever they’re telekinetic.
The subtext of these stories is a giveaway, though. Jarvik, in 'Harvest of Kairos', turns out to be a brilliant strategist and fighter precisely because he’s such an unreconstructed MAN. Servalan is led into trusting him because, deep down, she’s all WOMAN. In 'Moloch', the women of the Liberator have little or nothing to do with the plot proper. The only female characters in the story are victims of the Federation’s brutality: that’s the only reason they’re there, and it’s hard to see where they fit into the rest of the history of the planet. And in this story, well, where to begin? The downtrodden wife who self-righteously, heroically, calls herself a woman, rather than a Seska? Avon’s battle of wills with Pella, and the big life lesson that “men will always be stronger”…? Followed by a snog?!
To be honest, though, it saps the will even to write about this story because it’s so incredibly threadbare. They only have 45 minutes an episode, but have to contrive a convoluted plotline involving the riddle of a locked door to which Avon knew the resolution to all along, turning up in the nick of time to sort it out. Steed is so determined to tell his doomy tale about the battle of the sexes that the entire planet is represented by six people by the end (I don’t just mean represented onscreen – the Seska population is just five women, and they’re all dead by the end of the story). Steed can’t think of anything to do with Soolin for the story so just has her hide under a table somewhere.
In addition to which, we seem to have arrived back again with the tribes of the future middle ages that seem so ubiquitous in the universe of Blakes 7. Where are the ludicrous excesses of yesterseason, the lurex and leather and wild eye make-up? Has this show grown so embarrassed about its visual appearance that it’s decided to just play things down – because if so, it’s going to be a very long season. In Doctor Who we’ve just had the Argolins, the Vampires, the Tharils, Trakenites and Logopolians. Blake's 7 could at least have nicked some of their costumes.