Blake’s 7 – Headhunter

blake's 7 headhunter by roger parkes

Headhunter was the most fun I’ve had all series. I loved that even the title confounded my expectations – I was expecting a bounty hunter to come after Team Avon, so to have an actual head was marvellous.

I really enjoyed Blake’s 7 as a horror film, with various familiar aspects from the genre to pick up. Fairly early on, we’ve got a mysterious stranger with the complexion of Dracula encased in a cryogenic unit, in an upright position that quickly reminded me of the count’s coffin or a mummy’s sarcophagus. When this villain starts chasing our heroes, it’s got the huge stature that I associate with several monsters played by Christopher Lee. I like that guns won’t stop it, though in this case it’s not that the bullets are useless but that the guns are frazzled first. I was unsettled by the possession of Slave, but especially of Orac, with random creepy comments like, “Domination…” Finally, having a headless body coming after the crew, even if it’s really an android, is grim and looks bloody great. To top it off, Headhunter would have benefited from lots and lots of bright red blood à la Hammer Horror.

Dead man walking

When we first saw Muller, I made no judgement of his very pale face because it’s a diverse universe and no one had explicitly said if he was human anyway. I never twigged who it really was either because it’s such a barmy idea that the twist was always going to be hard to spot.

Nonetheless, throughout the episode, I enjoyed having moments when I kept noticing that something was very wrong: Slave acting up, Orac answering questions he wasn’t asked, and realising that despite a total systems’ failure on Scorpio, the cryogenic system containing the body was still lit up. I like that the audience has a chance to play along and try to figure things out to a degree.

Later, after the guard Tarrant had whacked came around and reported Muller’s body to be missing its head, I momentarily thought he must be mistaken and could not have ever seen Muller – this must be someone else’s corpse. Then I presumed we were dealing with some unknown imposter because there was no reason why Tarrant or Vila should have known what Muller looked like.

Tarrant and Vila in front of the cryogenic unit

I also realised that the black box seemed just the right size for a head, which instantly lent the episode a whole new tone as I kept thinking about it sitting there, unbeknownst to any of the crew. In particular, I found myself imagining Vila’s horrified reaction if he managed to open the box. I got very excited at the idea of us seeing a gory decapitated head. When the box was eventually opened, I didn’t at all mind seeing a slightly less-exciting android head because, by then, I was having so much fun.

Back from the dead

Avon has appeared callous towards the other crew other the last couple of episodes, so there was some relief after his decision to turn the teleport on to rescue Vila and Tarrant.

“Oh, you’ll have to do better than that, Orac, if you expect me to kill them.”

But it also meant ignoring Orac’s information that this was potentially dangerous. He chose to ignore logic for something human and his strength of feeling came across in his anger as he screamed at Orac. Arguably, Avon’s emotions were driving him again when he rounded on Tarrant for destroying the android – Orac’s warning should perhaps have been taken over Avon’s desire for them to possess the android’s power.

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Avon unhappy with Orac

I was left unsure by Headhunter‘s conclusion because I sided with Avon when Dayna and Tarrant blew up the android. They could have possessed something superbly powerful, and with their recent luck they need all they can get. There is the nagging detail of Orac’s warning that “requisite action must be carried out”, though I remain unsure if “prospects for organic humanoid life” meant Avon’s life or perhaps a wider section of humanity. I felt frustrated in the moment and, with Avon appearing alright, I was willing to risk other lives – surely no life can ever be fully guaranteed?

angry Avon

The decision to destroy the android was made without Dayna and Tarrant hearing from Orac, so I’m left to assume that they considered it too risky to keep the android in case it should go rogue again, or, having seen it, felt it was too much power for anyone to possess. Yet you could say that of any intelligent technology they possess – Orac is clearly susceptible to outside influences and they simply seem too used to relying on him to give him up. Considering that Orac is a big pain in the arse most of the time, it was slightly reassuring that he had earlier made the effort to warn Soolin to turn him off.  However, the more I thought about it afterwards, I’ve concluded that this may have been down to Orac’s own self-interest.

What the plot

It was only after the episode finished that I realised I’ve no idea how the android kept Muller’s head on top of its body and enabled it to function – I can only imagine that it was connected up in some Frankenstein’s monster-type way. There is a whole prequel that shows Muller’s development of the android and shows how exactly it managed to kill him. Was Muller dead before the head came off? Either there was little blood or the android did a lot of cleaning up before Tarrant arrived.

I’d enjoy a prequel to see more of Lynda Bellingham playing Muller’s companion, Vena. She continues the Blake’s 7 tradition of offering its female characters amazing eye shadow. But while it’s always pleasant to see Lynda Bellingham, she doesn’t have a great deal to do. After a lovely chat with Avon to give us all the background details needed, Vena later accompanies him for a quick shufty around Scorpio before getting squeezed to death. I’m sure Avon was gutted as he clearly fancied her a bit and had probably noticed her cleavage in that outfit earlier on. It’s a shame we don’t get to see Vena join in the monster chase but anyone who comes too near the crew seems to have a habit of dying.

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Vena smiling

Far more than Frankenstein’s android, there are other elements to Headhunter that tested my own willing suspension of disbelief during the episode. The sudden mention of “the disused hydro plant we found” confused me as I wondered if I had missed a reference to this earlier – either in this episode or another one. I don’t think so and I also can’t see a better way of bringing in this solution. A brief glimpse of it early on perhaps – maybe Dayna and Soolin could have been doing something there at the start of the episode. But this isn’t ideal either because you don’t have to be too versed in the language of television to understand that we are likely to return there later on. Ideally, we would have heard about or even seen the hydro plant in a previous story.

I can excuse this necessary plot point, but I’d still like to change one bit of writing: the use of “robot development cartel” in full every time grates. Establish what it is, but then please Mr Script Editor shorten it to just “cartel”.

Running through beige corridors

It feels ages since Blake’s 7 has done much running around corridors. The Liberator was good for that but the Scorpio set is one room. Headhunter allowed us to see a lot of the Xenon base and… it’s dull. It’s an off-white creamy beige and it goes perfectly well with the dull greyness of Scorpio’s interior. Team Avon now have uniforms and apart from Avon himself it’s more grey and I feel like I’m having to look at so much grey this series. The extra areas of the Xenon base we see in this episode are largely bare and practical. I’d love to see all the crew wearing something different but I’ll settle for some more interesting and colourful sets.

Headhunter felt like the most we had seen of Avon for a few episodes as he’s not had a great deal of action. Thinking back to another Blake’s 7 episode with a genre homage, in Mission to Destiny Avon said, “I love a mystery.” I remember how much he seemed to be enjoying himself in that story and there are numerous others where he’s clearly having a bloody good time running around, knocking people down, sorting shit out. It feels like we have left that behind at the moment and maybe it’s difficult to have so much fun when their plans are going nowhere.

Muller is another dead scientist and at least the second failed attempt to recruit an expert to Team Avon. I started to feel really despairing over Series B when the crew always seemed to get knocked back by the Federation’s might; this is starting to look like a similar run of bad luck where their ‘success’ each episode is marginal and they haven’t progressed towards their ultimate aim. I’m not so frustrated yet though. Currently, it does just feel like tough circumstances and following Series C’s conclusion, I think just managing to stay alive while having somewhere safe to live has been good enough.

Comments

  1. Joe

    Hannah, I’m so glad you enjoyed this episode (and that you stuck with it to get here!). Headhunter is a great, bonkers fun episode. It’s also the point where S4 really takes off and kicks into its own. Everyone has got a better handle on what the new series is about, the scripts written with Cally in mind are pretty much out of the way, and Soolin – as you may have noticed from this episode – really starts to get used as a character, which also means Glynis Barber gets to infuse her with some real personality.

    You’ve pretty much turned the corner on S4 now, and there are several outstanding episodes coming up, especially towards the very end of the run. I’m still enjoying your fresh takes on these episodes, and indeed your own personal enjoyment of them.

    “I’m sure Avon was gutted as he clearly fancied her a bit and had probably noticed her cleavage in that outfit earlier on.”

    There’s a glimpse of Avon’s observation skills in another episode…

    “I’d love to see all the crew wearing something different but I’ll settle for some more interesting and colourful sets.”

    It’s a shame they don’t have the clothing room like on Liberator, but it does seem strange they all wear the same gear week in, week out. There’s probably a script banned by the BBC, which takes place on laundry day, where they spend the whole adventure running around in their underwear.

    One last thought – I think this is the only episode of B7 in which the episode title turns out to be a pun.

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