For those viewers new to Blake’s 7, Series C continues as a lovely introduction. There are similarities to the first series as we essentially spend two episodes getting the crew together, ready to head off for adventures. Though I missed seeing Vila and Cally in Aftermath, introducing everyone across two episodes enables those two to have decent screentime and I liked that they both had their own little plots in Powerplay. This episode has a lot to do: Avon and Dayna are still getting to know each other, we need to reach Vila and Cally, plus include a plot that brings Tarrant in. It’s impressive that on top of this, Vila and Cally are given a well-structured separate plot of their own.
To an extent, the fact I knew Tarrant would eventually be joining the Liberator affected my viewing. However, I was more inclined to believe he was a real Federation officer who would turn rogue and I was initially very convinced by his performance.
Despite my foreknowledge, I think I may still have rumbled him anyway. The murder of the first guard made me suspicious and there were more obvious hints that Tarrant was not all he seemed: we found out he arrived separately from the other guards, then when Avon and Dayna were hiding below the corridor, Tarrant paused over the hatch and clearly knew they were there, yet said nothing.
I do not trust Tarrant. I am unsure of his motivations for seeking the Liberator out. I remain doubtful of his backstory and think he is more of a criminal than an aspiring freedom fighter. I feel this, but acknowledge that I am hypocritical: I would have summarised most of the original Liberator crew this way when we first met them, especially Avon and Vila. Circumstances brought them together and it seemed enough to bind them. Like Jenna, Tarrant was a smuggler, but we quickly established that Jenna was a nice – too nice – smuggler. Tarrant now occupies the place of Avon in my view, as he’s the one I would expect to screw the others over. I need to see more of him though as it is currently all just vague distrust.
Avon and Dayna
It’s great to watch Avon use his knowledge of the Liberator against the guards as it’s so rare for the crew to have this type of advantage. It is also a good way of demonstrating to Dayna that he knows what he’s doing – perhaps building up the trust between them; she has just run off with a complete stranger.
While Avon takes the lead, Dayna doesn’t look left out and I enjoyed watching them together. Avon hasn’t had particularly friendly relationships with any of the crew apart from Vila – his exchanges have often been functionary, issuing orders or plain hostile – so this is an interesting change. There is the potential for something more romantic between Avon and Dayna, but, as I said following Aftermath, I think such things would end badly. Having given it more thought since then, I would expect the series to kill off Dayna rather than let that carry on. So far though, she’s continuing to impress me by getting involved with the physical fights. She has far less regard for life than Avon and isn’t at all bothered or even interested in the death of the first guard.
Without ascribing any flirtatious connotations to their conversations, Avon is more relaxed with Dayna compared to when he first met the other Liberator crew. She might think he’s secretive yet his overall demeanour is different. “Perhaps I’m just shy,” is a lovely line and it appears a rushed response because Avon is suddenly realising that he now has little cause to be so secretive: he was understandably guarded originally, but no longer needs to be and his confidence is there in his firm declaration: “This is my ship.” It was a comment that caught me for a moment until I realised that the Liberator really is all Avon’s now. Powerplay‘s plot serves this nicely as well because Avon has fought for and earned the ship by the end.
Jenna and Blake
Jenna really has gone with no desire to be followed and I don’t blame her. It appears my belief following Aftermath was wrong – Blake cannot have deliberately disguised his destination because Zen was able to tell Avon where he had gone. I wondered why we have been given this information. My only conclusion is that Avon is going to try to find Blake, which would mean that despite the destruction of Star One, Avon still isn’t free of Blake after all.
Only a machine
Zen essentially disappeared as a substantial character during the last series. But as I spent so much of Series A critiquing him, it is only fair that I take a moment to commend him now, even if he is only a machine.
Despite a whole series of calling him a useless tosser, Zen’s betrayal – as I saw it – in Redemption remained hurtful – how dare he do this to our crew? However, I was pleased by his loyalty in Powerplay as he provided no control to the intruders. I don’t think we have previously established the idea of voice keys for Zen. It’s something that seems as though it could come in useful in the future. Adding Dayna and Tarrant’s keys is a suitable way of welcoming them on board, but I did think it seemed a bit premature in Tarrant’s case. I want to yell: not all anti-Federation people are good guys!
Location, location, location
The location filming in this series has already been more impressive than in previous ones. Aftermath’s visit to an actual sunny beach seems phenomenal as it would normally be inevitable for British weather to conspire against such plans and deliver grim, overcast days, even at the height of Summer. Blake’s 7 may have used forests before, but Powerplay‘s setting is still different; Vila’s clearing next to the stream with its rocks and vapour provides more variety than previous forest scenes.
Vila and Cally
It felt like it took forever to see Vila and Cally as I was still concerned – I later discovered it was a mere seven minutes until Vila appears! Vila’s message that he was hurt was a nice bit of dragging out the suspense for those lengthy minutes. Knowing Vila, half of me expected him to have only a relatively minor injury. Once we saw his fire next to his escape capsule, it was clear he hadn’t been able to move far for several days. I enjoyed the scene with Vila putting on voices to deter would-be attackers and it’s the sort of tailored comedy gift for Michael Keating that can be provided now we are a few series in.
As Vila was led off to the facility, I was unsure whether or not to trust the Hi-Techs. Dudley Simpson’s incidental music had wonderfully subtle notes that enabled a sense of foreboding to emerge. While this is a common technique in both film and television, it was just done so delicately here that I was really impressed. I’ve liked Blake’s 7‘s sounds and soundtrack throughout but this episode in particular caught my ear. I especially enjoyed a small section when Avon and Dayna surfaced from the below the corridor, as it reminded me of a piece from the ITC series Man in a Suitcase (1967), for which I adore Albert Elm’s soundtrack.
Cally has more focus in Powerplay than she did across most of the last series. Her backseat as teleport operator and occasional nurse has coloured my view of her as I expected her to be meek but I liked how she stood up to Servalan. It reminded me that in The Keeper she also refused to follow Avon’s order to attack a second ship, so there has been something there and it would be good to see her character built on.
Servalan’s gleeful reveal of the facility’s purpose is so perfectly in character for her. The revelation that they were at an organ harvesting facility turned my stomach as nastily as it did Vila’s face. Instantly, images flashed across my mind’s eye of an episode of Waking the Dead (2000-2011) – the only one I’ve ever seen – in which a man had volunteered to sell one of his kidneys, but had then had his eyes stolen as well. That was the first time I became aware of the practice and I’ve continued to find it horrifying.
I wasn’t clockwatching but I was sure we must be near the end of the episode so both immediately following the revelation and when Cally and Vila lay on the operating tables I was panicking, worried that the episode would end on another cliffhanger. I was so relieved when they teleported up – it felt like one of the worst last-second rescues yet.
There is some more Federation lore added when Tarrant tells us the guards on the Liberator are part of a Death Squad. It’s extra information for those of us who have been watching for a while, as well as an easy way of telling the new audience that Blake’s 7‘s bad guys are properly evil. Servalan’s presence adds a tad more too.
A running theme throughout Series B was how undefeatable the Federation seemed, especially in the first half of that series, and I began to feel frustrated as the crew were repeatedly knocked back. Aftermath told us that the Federation was on its knees, barely surviving. But this did look like it could be a bluff and Powerplay shows the Federation comfortably holding on. The Death Squad survived the Battle for Star One and even after finding herself on a ‘neutral’ planet, Servalan has managed to wrangle a lift out of there. She is President now, presumably with even less to hold her back and with even more resources at her command, so, with a certain amount of trepidation for the new Team Avon, I am looking forward to what Servalan will do next.