Blake’s 7: 5 women I actually liked

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.

JENNA

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

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.

SERVALAN

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.

DAYNA

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

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.

Comments

  1. Anemone says

    “young black woman named Dayna”

    So I take it all the others are white? :) Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Normally I wouldn’t notice something like this myself but this jumped out at me.

    I’ve only vaguely heard of Blake’s 7. Hopefully we’ll be able to watch it on DVD here sometime, since now I’m a bit curious.

  2. says

    Hurrah! Blake’s 7 is love.

    Another thing about Jenna is that in terms of the Season 1 power structure, she’s almost level with Blake and Avon – to the extent that they’ll each decide which direction they want to go in, and she’ll be the decider.

    Servalan has been one of my role models for years – what I especially love is how in terms of her plot arc, she could easily have been written as a man – (SPOILERS) what with going from evil general to coup-throwing supreme leader to faking her own death to returning to power.

  3. says

    Anemone, *cringe*. Yeah, I was coming at that sentence from the shared perspective we all have around here, which is that of course they’re all white, that’s part of the problem we’re talking about. But you’re right, it does also service the notion that the default is white.

    QoT, good point about Jenna’s power. She lets them argue for a while, then makes the decisive point. And Servalan… I usually just hate characters like her. But this time, I didn’t. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. :D

  4. AF Williams says

    De-lurking to say: Thank you for doing a piece on this show. I started watching it last year, and was struck by how modern the tone of the program was. As cheesy as it was and for all its problems, B7 had fantastic casting and character-writing, especially in its main females. Guest stars… not always, and we shall not even speak of Series D… *shudder*

  5. Sally says

    Blakes 7 debuted here in Australia when I was about one or two. My father gave it to me in VHS on about my 14th or 15th birthday. I have always loved the series (I now have it on DVD) and the female protagonists have all been role-models, each in her own way.

    As I have commented elsewhere on this forum, it is ironic that a society that can produce such sexist drivel as “The Benny Hill Show” can also produce marvellously well-defined and competent female characters as these five.

    The series is very British in other ways too. Unlike the simplistic worldview of Star Wars or the “boldly going” of Star Trek, we see a nasty universe where ‘morality’ is ambiguous. Instead of shining paladins, loyal sidekicks and women in need of rescue, we get Avon, Vila and these five female heroes.

    Oh, and by the way, the shot of the spaceship was produced by sticking cardboard fins onto a cordless microphone — that’s *British* ingenuity for ya!

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