Ben Steed - a Blake's script writer

By Kai V Karmanheimo

With the risk of stating the obvious, I'm going to contribute to the discussion of Ben Steed's three episodes, or rather his... ideology. Though all B7 writers display some idiosyncratic mannerisms (Allan Prior's soma and penchant for having a lot of explosions on Liberator/Scorpio/pursuit ships, Robert Holmes' Avon & Vila scenarios, and Roger Parkes' Orac-as-a-medical-aid device), it's Steed who seems to be most consistent with certain thematic elements in his scripts (apart from Tanith Lee's horror-and-romance formula, of course). As has been noted that they are male vs female and a mistrust for technology. I would say these two are linked.

Note in "The Harvest of Kairos" how Servalan flaunts her expected victory and lists the resources she had to achieve. Technology, the strictly-controlled (tyrannical) society and the antiseptic, beyond-visual-range killing are associated with Servalan, a woman. Jarvik, the sympathetically-portrayed, pronouncedly masculine figure, holds no trust in computers, abandons his (apparently) privileged job in Space Command's killing machine for honest menial work and sees more glory in the old-fashioned face-to-face, *man-to-man* confrontation.

In "Moloch" we have the technologically advanced society of Sardos that has isolated itself from "the normal evolutionary process" and is now effectively ruled by a computer. We of course only see two Sardoans, but it is not surprising that they are both women, so they can be portrayed as essential helpless victims in the face of the Federation troops whose rough, action-prone masculinity is superior to the passive defence of the energy screen. Once both Moloch and the worst villains have been disposed of, it is natural that the remaining troops and the convicts, most of whom probably weren't some harmless political criminals (here again, the essentially sympathetic Doran has a misogynist streak), will be beneficial to Sardoans, as "they're a stuck-up bunch". In both these cases you have a technologically advanced, computer-dependent society ruled over by women, and detached from the "natural" by that technology (natural evolution, natural emotions, sand and surf etc.); they are then contrasted with the introduction of a strong, machine-sceptical male (note Astrid's attempt to destroy Moloch) whose superiority (though thwarted in "Harvest") is based on things like strength, ruthlessness, or just distrust of computers. It is entirely essentialist, of course, the old "have balls, will rule the world, thank you".

Finally, in the gender warfare of "Power" it is technology (the focusing crystals, artificial insemination, nutrients brought by Scorpio) which grants the female Seska independence from the male Hommiks, who must then forcefully reinstate the "natural order". Gunn Sar, though not a sympathetic character in the way Jarvik was, is similarly endowed with physical power, machismo and distrust for the technical ("Your computer! Not your books or your mates or your woman or your assistant, but your computer."). It is partially to do with his ignorance of them but the overall idea is that technology is antagonist to the true male virtues of power and glory ("Expensive baubles for the ladies").

Like Avon, we grin when Gunn Sar gets confused with his math: "I rule by the strength of my right arm and by my left arm and by the...". However, think of the connotations of that statement. What do the Hommiks do to the Seska once they have captured them and surgically removed the crystals? What is the whole point of the war? Sexual power goes with physical power, the alpha male's superiority is confirmed by the feminine's sexual submission. The Jarvik-Servalan relationship was more open-ended (Servalan played with Jarvik as much he with her), but in Gunn Sar's case the power is in his hands and between his legs (though you can't say that on the BBC). The Seska's unwillingness to submit threatens this order, so the sexual dominance must be imposed by force.

I think the main problem with "Power" is that as Gunn Sar is disposed, the task of being the dominant male and the vehicle of Steed's ideology falls largely on Avon's shoulders. The key scene is the one where Avon forcefully takes the neckband from Pella. Whereas the other moments of Avon kissing someone in the series are given drooling ovation, I haven't at least noticed much attention to this scene, despite its sado-masochistic overtones that people seem to find "beautiful". Is it because here Avon is pushed into the role of a rapist, forcing himself on a woman against her will, overpowering her and taking the neckband, the symbol of the Seska's power and independence, the key of their untouchability (compare this to the formally similar scene in "Sarcophagus")? And at the end, it is Avon who puts things back into order by showing Pella that *he* has the bigger... gun, which in Steed's world is all that matters. Avon of course uses technology to a degree, but in the end, it's him alone, one *man* walking tall and carrying a big stick that puts it right, all under the convenient pretext that "she started it!" Personally, I find this portrayal of Avon nasty but not entirely out-of-character, at least more easily acceptable than that of "Harvest".

There is more you could say about his characterisation and his plots (quite obvious the way he conveniently ignores Soolin until the last minute) of the actual episodes, but have to go now.


Back up to Essay index

Back up to Blakes 7

Last changed on 07th of June 2000