Blake’s 7 – The Harvest of Kairos

The Harvest of Kairos has ideas with good potential, but it doesn’t work well for me overall. Despite some high stakes, I found the episode dull in parts. Intersecting the space pursuit with the introduction to Jarvik slowed the pace and it did seem to go on for a long time, but without the usual tense, exciting action I usually enjoy from these “battle stations” moments. I think these parts of the episode should have been edited down, partly because I’d have liked more time for another element.

The rock

It was amusing to see Avon so distracted by his new discovery and winding up Orac, forcing him to admit there was something greater than himself. Yet when Avon had dragged Cally away from the bridge, putting them all in danger, it was concerning. It began to seem like the rock had some sort of hold on Avon with Tarrant criticising: “That thing has warped your reasoning. It has even warped your notorious instinct for looking after number one.” After this, it disappears for the rest of the episode before Avon whips it out at the end, having suddenly figured out how it works. This wasn’t enough for me and I think the plot would have benefitted from spending more time constructing the unusual mystery around the rock.

I do think the rock’s excellent defence mechanism – of showing itself as just like its attacker but a tiny bit better – is a clever idea. I wish far more had been made of this. It would have been interesting to understand what it projected to each of the crew. Does it reflect the power they actually have or that which they think they have?

Cally is fearful when Avon tries to get her to help him analyse it, yet we are never explicitly shown what its effect on Avon is. It’s hard to tell if he is simply fascinated by it because he loves a mystery or because he is able to sense something similar to himself – the latter could have presented a good opportunity to check Avon’s ego.

Battle of the sexes

Introducing a romantic interest for Servalan is such an intriguing idea on the surface. I’ve previously written about how much I enjoy the way Servalan’s sexiness and femininity are used to her advantage. She always seems in control, so up until now, I’ve wondered if she values her pursuit of power so much that she doesn’t risk relationships in case it should cloud her judgement or allow her to be manipulated. Perhaps, but it’s also likely that she just hasn’t fancied any of the meagre Federation specimens before her.

It’s obvious that Servalan and Jarvik ravish each other and I like the subtlety of the episode’s pre-watershed post-coital scene. Their clothes are slightly dishevelled and Servalan sipping her blue beverage is tantamount to a subsequent cigarette. I’ve always been mildly surprised that no one smokes in the Blake’s 7 universe; based on other contemporary dramas, predicting this habit’s extinction is a highly un-1970s thing to do.

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However, despite this plot’s potential, Servalan being attracted to a man like Jarvik is frustrating. She dismisses him as a “primitive”, a description fully justified by his attitude towards her as a woman. He’s later similarly dismissive of Dayna, but while Dayna has a chance to immediately prove him wrong in hand-to-hand combat, Jarvik’s battle tactics are shown to work where Servalan’s failed.

Servalan has been depicted as an incredibly strong woman, and one inference to take from her relationship with Jarvik is that she has really been longing for a powerful man. It implies old-fashioned notions that independent, determined women need a man to dominate and control them, lest their wayward ways give them incorrect ideas about their place in society. I disliked seeing Servalan’s character undermined in this way and was wishing death on Jarvik from his first scene – you can’t go around calling the President “woman”.

Kicking arse

It isn’t a great episode for Dayna either; after everything she must have coped with growing up, I did not expect to see her screaming at a slowly-moving spider, even if it a giant one. It was also disappointing that while we watched Tarrant and Jarvik’s fight at length, we are denied as much glory as seeing Dayna kick Jarvik’s arse – we always get to see the blokes’ moments of heroism, so why can’t we give an equal spotlight to Dayna on this occasion?

Deadly design

I can mumble about being forgiving of BBC budgets or just admit the spiders look crap. As I attempt to imagine how they might have been described in the script, it seems unlikely that anything decent was ever going to emerge. However, I think it would have been worth attempting some script surgery to ensure the spider was only seen at night and perhaps within the forest, as surely this could have hidden more than shooting it in the open during broad daylight? We don’t linger on the spiders’ victims – neither visually or textually – and when we finally see one of the perpetrators, any previous fear from the mystique of Kairos is completely eroded.

Do we really need the Liberator?

Since Blake’s 7 convinced me it might do anything, I am easily convinced the crew might lose the Liberator at any time. I’ve half given it up as gone in every episode so far this series: Aftermath – certain it had been destroyed; Powerplay – thought Avon might never wrestle it back from the Death Squad; Volcano – was sure Servalan’s goons would take it once Avon had been knocked out; Dawn of the Gods – worried they wouldn’t get back before it was broken up; and here, I again thought this was it – surely Servalan was just going to get the hell out of there and we would have no way of getting anyone back to the Liberator.

I was delighted that the crew were able to get back to the Liberator because I have grown rather fond of it. The exterior design is fascinating and I find myself trying to imagine the interior floorplan within it – whereabouts exactly is the decompression chamber we saw in Dawn of the Gods? What about the medical bay? The yoga lounge? Is there a kitchen? Perhaps a bar? What are the storage areas like? Where do we find those riches Avon told Jenna about in Cygnus Alpha? Where do all their clothes keep coming from – are they all off-the-peg or are they whipping some of them up themselves?

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Power play

One of my favourite moments in the episode was the relatively short scene with Servalan and Avon, with him setting his conditions for handing over the Liberator. While Servalan has featured in every episode so far, except Dawn of the Gods, this is the first time she and Avon have shared a scene since Aftermath.

With Tarrant refusing to key in Servalan’s voice for Zen, she threatens to start killing them until Avon steps in: “How wise, Avon – you might have been next. Though with your qualities I’d probably have saved you.” I’d adored their scenes together in Aftermath, especially in the underground base, and it felt like we were picking that back up.

As well as the rest of it being a nice scene between Servalan and Avon, this moment is another in the series that reflects the differences between Tarrant and Avon. The episode has a strange dynamic as Tarrant leads things on the Liberator, partly because Avon is distracted by his rock. I continue to be slightly thrown by Tarrant getting such responsibility when I still consider him an untrustworthy newbie and was glad that on this occasion the script does address it, with Avon telling Tarrant, “I understand that […] you are the most astute space warfare commander,” although after Tarrant has left, he does cynically add, “…or so you tell us often enough.”

In the scene with Servalan, Tarrant has decided they should all die instead of handing over the Liberator, which is understandable as Servalan would likely kill them anyway. But Avon’s mind has clearly been whirring in the background as he has devised a way of getting them off alive. Avon’s ability to think calmly under heightened circumstances stands them well.

Jarvik classed a cloud over much of episode and I was sadistically pleased when he was killed, but it wasn’t just him that left me unsatisfied. Having constructed a slightly unnerving mystery around what happens after the harvest on Kairos, the events there become a sideshow. There is no sense that the crew is in real danger from the spiders, so no urgency for them to get away – it’s about getting back to the Liberator, rather than combining this with a need to escape. There are redeeming parts, but overall The Harvest of Kairos didn’t have enough for me.

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