I recently got to see all of the 1978-1981 British sci-fi series, Blake’s 7 on Region 2 format, which is the only way it’s available right now, unfortunately. It looks like your typical Star Wars era cheesy sci-fi, but the overall tone is more 1984. It’s also a clear antecedent for many shows that came later – Farscape and Firefly/Serenity, to name two.
Blake’s 7 is not perfect on the gender front; it even plays with a few tropes that made me think of Witness of Gor. But it accomplished one unusually positive thing: it gave me five female characters I liked. These characters don’t all appear at the same time – on this show, quite a few cast members come and go pretty regularly. But every episode contains at least two women, which is one more than most sci-fi shows of the day felt were required for the full run. Episodes rarely pass the rest of the MMM/Wallace/Bechdel test, but I still consider it far better than average – even by 2010 standards.
The first woman to join Blake’s crew is Jenna Stannis. She’s a smuggler, and comes complete with the distrustful, cagey attitude you’d expect of someone used to dealing with criminals. She’s also a highly qualified pilot, which Blake needs to run the sophisticated alien spaceship they manage to steal. Jenna is always cool under pressure and never gets very emotional about anything, but she proves to be very loyal and very much a team player. This defies quite a few female stereotypes, some of which were more popular then than they are now.
Cally joins Blake’s crew shortly after Jenna does. She’s from a planet of humans who have genetically engineered themselves to be telepathic. They’ve also isolated themselves from the rest of the galaxy, so Cally is sometimes too naive and empathetic. I found it annoying when large chunks of plot hinged on someone fooling her at first, but then she started becoming more assertive and tough-minded. Everyone starts life naive – it’s only the characters who stay that way perpetually who get on my nerves.
There’s a nasty dude chasing Blake and his crew, but the dude has a boss, and her name is Servalan. She’s your typical power-hungry sociopath who uses everything at her disposal to achieve her goals and accepts the risks of the game (a lot of people would like to hurt her). Her taste in men seems to run toward murderous thugs who treat her roughly, but this comes off as a kink rather than a weakness because despite appearances, she’s always ultimately the predator and never the prey. I enjoyed hating her, but I also found myself wishing I was more like her in some ways: I wish I was half the risk-taker she is. This woman has got game.
The next woman to join Blake’s crew is a young black woman named Dayna. She and her father develop high-tech weapons, and she’s an expert with those as well as many primitive ones. The week before I got to her episodes, I had been complaining that you never see a female character who just really likes getting into fights. Well, you do in Dayna. She’s not stupid about starting fights she can’t win, but once violence becomes inevitable, she has a good time with it. She also has a confidence level to rival that of Servalan, and a blood oath against Servalan for killing Dayna’s father.
Soolin joins us in the very last series, and we don’t get to know a lot about her. We know she killed the men who murdered her family after getting one of them to teach her gun skills. She’s an extremely fast draw and an excellent shot, and the actress pulls this off surprisingly well. Like Jenna, she plays her cards close to the chest. But when she thinks the crew is making a wrong decision, she speaks up in no uncertain terms.