If there’s one episode which distils all that is excellent about Blake’s 7, it’s Powerplay. More than ever before, there’s a solid feeling that no one is safe. Everyone lives on a knife edge now.
It’s a fast, brutal story with a clever script full of excellent characterisation – and the perfect introduction to Del Tarrant. There are strong subplots in Powerplay – Vila’s lame gullibility on Chenga and Cally’s verbal sparring with Servalan – but it’s what’s happening on the Liberator that’s really important.
Avon and Dayna, freshly returned to the Liberator, have been captured by a band of desperate-looking Federation troopers, led by the brutish Sergeant Klegg and a young, posh-voiced officer called Tarrant.
Tarrant fits Blake’s 7 so easily it’s like he’s always been there. On first viewing Powerplay, still confused by the absence of Blake, it’s easy to think he was going to be a Blake substitute. But Tarrant’s arrival on board the Liberator – in fact he’s already there when Avon gets back from Sarran – is the real turning point for Blake’s 7.
Steven Pacey’s portrayal, given that the role was undoubtedly written with an older actor in mind, is quite amazing in Powerplay. Our attention is on Paul Darrow and Josette Simon, our only touchstones at the start of this episode. But Pacey looks about 23 here and owns the part in his first scene. His best scene is where he explains himself to Avon: he’s sharp, in control and easily a match for Avon. He might look like a pretty boy but he’s wily and tough and, most importantly, nothing like Blake. For one thing he’s a cold-blooded killer, and not squeamish when it comes to lying or stabbing people in the back. Literally stabbing them in the back. He turns the tables on the Federation death squad but he’s proved himself as anything but trustworthy. Desperate and a loner, yes. But part of the Liberator crew?
And that’s where the magic of Powerplay is: we’re already disorientated by the lack of Blake. We haven’t seen Jenna and it doesn’t look like we’re going to. Vila and Cally are worlds apart. Dayna is new and, frankly, a bit odd. We’ve only just got back to the Liberator and it’s been overtaken by some Federation thugs. The only character we have left to reassure us that everything’s going to be OK is Avon, the crew member we trusted least.
It’s Blake’s 7, but transformed. All bets are off. Anything can happen.
You can’t ask for a better premise for a drama series than that. It’s mesmerising and it’s constantly unnerving. Blake’s 7 was never predictable; we knew that because Gan had been killed, and no one was safe. But now even the eponymous hero is gone and all but forgotten; the antihero is in charge. The new recruits are dangerous killers with little more than a grudge against the Federation. No one’s safe anymore.
Trevor wrote the Blake's 7 novel Criminal Intent and the audio adventure Scimitar for Big Finish. Both are highly recommended and you can buy them here: