Skip to main content

You have a fetching way with women.


Blake's 7
4.2: Power


Whilst I’ve always held Season Four as my favourite of Blake’s 7, there’s little doubt that it doesn’t get off to as strong a start as any of its predecessors. And the return of Ben Steed and his curious obsession with rather mundane explorations of sexual politics doesn’t bode well for this second episode.


Indeed, I can’t really make much of an argument to counter anyone who regards this as a bit shit. But I did enjoy it for the most part. Despite the rather literal take on a battle of the sexes, the daft plotting and the rather ill-fitting marriage between what we just saw in Rescueand the civilisation outside the base. I wonder if the creators of Lost ever saw this, and designed an inverse world where we discover the exterior before the interior environment.


We’re presented with a decidedly lunk-headed depiction of warring “tribes” but there’s a fair amount of humour on display (one can only speculate on how much of this was Boucher) and a highly enjoyable swathe of exposition from Avon at the end when he gets to do his best Hercules Poirot since Season One’s Mission to Destiny(one might read into the climax that also he gets to shoot his hot death spunk into an unyielding she-bitch as a display of masculine superiority if one was to interpret this along Ben Steed lines).

There’s also a lot of creaking, groaning and toe-curling in places. Primitive tribes never tend to fare well in sci-fi, and there are hints of Hostage’s unenlightened environment here as well as that of Deliverance. Fortunately, Mary Ridge keeps the pace snappy and the introduction of a countdown clock is usually a good move if all else fails.


We sort-of pick up where Rescueleft off, in that the crew are trying to break through to the hangar bay (well, Vila is). But Avon is preoccupied with activities involving Orac that don’t become fully clear until later (he tells the computer he needs teleport now, but I’m not sure how he was expecting it to suddenly work). Avon’s not being that sensible here, quickly getting captured by Hommiks who show that this season’s communication bracelets are as crappily made as the Liberator’s. We’re told that Soolin has disappeared and see that there’s also a trio of wandering ladies who know about Xenon base.


Steed sets up the Hommiks as “When men were men!” types, except that he seems to be attempting a critique of some description by having a semi-self aware thick chap as their leader. Dicken Ashworth (Sezon in Timelash) makes Gunn-Sar quite entertaining, and his dialogue is frequently amusing (the discussion over whether Gunn-Sar can claim victory over 25 or 26 challengers). All this testosterone appears to bring out Avon’s chivalrous side at first, as he prevents Gunn-Sar from striking a wench. I suspect a first season Avon would have remained uninvolved.

Avon: You have a fetching way with women.

This devolved society has the whiff of a careless take on Boucher’s The Face of Evil, but Steed is more interested in his ongoing sexplorations (instead of Sevateem and Tesh we have Hommiks and Seska). Which means that Gunn-Sar can name a petroscope without a second thought but needs to be reminded by Cato of his speech preceding a challenge.
The business involving Dynamon crystals doesn’t seem sufficiently well-developed for making the leap from the telekinetic powers of the Seska to the teleportation requirements of Avon’s system. Avon suggests that Pella lacked the technical skills to develop a teleport for Scorpio, but she clearly had enough knowledge for Avon and Orac to make it functional once the Dynamon crystal was added to the equation.


Juliet Hammond gives a strong performance as the scheming Pella, by turns warm, brittle and fearsome. Her scene with Vila trying to break through the hangar door works well.

Pella: You must be very clever.
Vila: That’s what I keep telling everyone.

It establishes the ticking clock for the episode (a nuclear compression charge will go off in 48 hours) and the misdirection of how she got in and out of the base through a locked door. We’re also set up for the connection between Dorian and the Seska (he’d bring them nutrients to subsist on, but we don’t learn in exchange for what until later).


However, Powernever feels anything other than an afterthought on what the outside world of Xenon must be like; a bit like the way that The Sontaran Experiment is forced to jigsaw with The Ark in Space but not quite yielding. Wouldn’t Dorian have attempted to prey on the inhabitants of the planet, or have built up a disturbing reputation over 200 years (like Solon /Morbius on Karn)? Rescue feels like we’re being shown an uninhabited planet and, while the teleport plot works in terms of explaining Dorian’s lie about the ship in Rescue(not knowing what it was), it nevertheless seems like a quick fix to get the show up to speed rather than something crafted with due care.

Mary Ridge has been thrown a bit of a duffer, but directs with due diligence. With Vere Lorrimer in the producer’s chair we’re fortunately saved his workmanlike approach, as this is just the sort of story we’d expect him to have helmed in previous seasons.


Orac is well-catered for (Steed’s scripts make a point of providing a significant role for him), showing suitable disinterest in the fate of the base until his existence is in danger, and coming over all cryptic when a straight answer concerning how Pella got in and out of the base would have expedited sorting things out (Dayna notes that Avon is the only crew member whom he shows any respect to, and that’s likely because Avon gets all threatening if Orac doesn’t cut through the shit).


It’s unclear what exactly the operation on the Seska consists of (presumably the crystal in the neckbands amplify whatever “chakra” in the neck that is deactivated through the operation). How did the Seska reports in Xenon base end up there? Did the Seska provide them to Dorian? I’m assuming that Dorian wasn’t lying when he said he built the base. 

Certainly, the timeline wouldn’t work for it to have belonged to the Seska, but the timing on all this is rather skew-whiff. The history on the discs stopped 20 years previously, and Pella says that the Seska came to the planet because it was Earth-like. But how did they arrive and why didn’t they make tracks as soon as the hostility of the Hommiks was known about? Presumably the Hommiks are indigenous and, despite their penchant for “converting” Seska, they have their own women (or they’d die out). But it’s not been thought through properly, nor clearly explained.


Steed attempts some kind of differentiation between the attitude of Nina, a Seska convert who enjoys being a “woman”, and Pella, who sees her as corrupted and abused. And while the actual relationship between Gunn-Sar and Nina is surprisingly touchingly portrayed, there’s a stacking up of elements that don’t really help Steed’s case if he doesn’t want to be accused of (at very least) promulgating sexist viewpoints.


This is most evident in the relationship between Avon and Pella. True, it’s not the greatest story for Avon in some respects; he gets knocked on the bonce a couple of times and spends a good deal of the proceedings unconscious. But he also acts the alpha male and conqueror of those women who want to be free from the oppression of men. His scene when he overcomes Pella’s telekinetic powers and then seals his victory by planting a smacker on her lips is incredibly cheesy.

Avon: You see, Pella, it's your strength, and however you use it, a man's will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.

And later, after he’s well-and-truly penetrated (killed) her, he comes to the tritest sub-Kirk of conclusions (only relieved somewhat by Slave’s fawning response that he has no opinion on the matter).

Avon: It's a problem, isn't it? You can have war between races, war between cultures, war between planets. But once you have war between the sexes, you eventually run out of people.

If Steed’s trying for insight, he fails completely by making his female protagonist clumsily unlikeable (despite Hammond’s performance), someone who’s willing to kill one off her sisters to succeed.

While we’re discussing identification, it’s curious that in the fight with Gunn-Sar she comments that the black woman must win; since there are no other women fighting it seems like an unnecessary qualification.


On the other hand, Steed’s cack-handedness also reaps unexpected dividends; the scene where Nina comes to see Gunn-Sar and he’s embroidering a shirt is an unexpectedly hilarious touch.


So Cato’s been killed by Avon (at Pella’s will) while explaining the history of the tribe; I can’t help think it happened at the precise moment he was going to discuss the Seska because Steed couldn’t be arsed to work it all out.


And then we get Dayna fighting it out with Gunn-Sar in a decidedly mucky clay pit. How everyone must have loved filming this (particularly as Avon had to duke it out earlier). 


Avon’s fight deserves a mention, not just for his shit-eating grin before getting down to the scrap but also for the brassiness with which he announces he will be fighting with just a glove.


At least Dayna’s got her balls back this week, so to speak. Well, until it proves necessary for the Seska to do in Gunn-Sar (couldn’t they have engineered the deaths of the Hommiks when their numbers were so much greater?)  And unfortunately she gets probably the cringiest line in the episode:

Gunn-Sar: Don't be foolish. You're, well, you're a...
Dayna: A woman? Yeeesss. Take a GOOOOD look.


If it wasn’t for the relish with which Darrow takes command of the last five minutes, I’d probably give this only two stars. While Pella is attempting to manipulate the rest of the crew in order to make her escape (in the 10 minutes remaining) Avon has put everything together, including somewhat unbelievably a working teleport. 


He confronts Pella, saying that she was taking Dorian for a ride with claims of constructing a teleport. And it’s good to see suspicious old Avon present and correct in not trusting anyone not to take off without him (hence making up a false password and instructing Orac to relate it). Darrow even delivers “tele-ergotron” as if he believes there is such a thing.


Effectively, the suddenly working teleport is a magic wand effect; we never get an idea of the leap that needed to be made between whatever Pella didn’t come up with and the finishing touches that Orac and Avon connived.  


Avon arrives on Scorpio and shoots Pella. So, of course, Steed makes a tedious comment about men and guns but also has the hero, Eastwood-style, “shoot the bitch”.

Pella: That always was the easy answer for the man -- the Hommik!
Avon: If you didn't want the answer, you shouldn't have asked the question.


It’s a curious choice to have everyone teleport onto Scorpio at the end. Presumably to go for a spin around the solar system? Soolin’s announcement that she doesn’t show allegiance rather she sells her skill doesn’t have much oomph as a last line, but I’m glad to see Barber back. 


(The script online for this says that Avon is pointing his gun at her when she whips hers out, but he isn’t; he’s just looking at her non-plussed).



Yes, it’s shit, and makes bugger all sense. But I did rather enjoy it for the most part. Thank goodness that’s the last of Ben Steed, though. Crazy, messed-up kid. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck (1987)
(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

They went out of business, because they were too good.

School for Scoundrels (1960)
(SPOILERS) Possibly the pinnacle of Terry-Thomas’ bounder persona, and certainly the one where it’s put to best caddish use, as he gives eternally feckless mug Ian Carmichael a thorough lesson in one-upmanship, only for the latter to turn the tables when he finds himself a tutor. School for Scoundrels is beautifully written (by an uncredited Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff), filled with clever set pieces, a fine supporting cast and a really very pretty object of the competing chaps’ affection (Janette Scott), but it’s Terry-Thomas who is the glue that binds this together. And, while I couldn’t say for sure, this might have the highest “Hard cheese” count of any of his films.

Based on Stephen Potter’s 1947’s humorous self-help bestseller (and subsequent series of -manship books) The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or The Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating), which suggested ungentlemanly methods for besting an opponent in any given field, gam…

It could have been an accident. He decided to sip a surreptitious sup and slipped. Splash!

4.10 A Surfeit of H20
A great episode title (definitely one of the series’ top ten) with a storyline boasting all the necessary ingredients (strange deaths in a small village, eccentric supporting characters, Emma even utters the immortal “You diabolical mastermind, you!”), yet A Surfeit of H20 is unable to quite pull itself above the run of the mill.