Random Musings: A Look back at Blake’s 7

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         Hundreds of years in the future, the totalitarian Earth Federation rules with an iron fist. One small band of criminals— led by charismatic freedom fighter Roj Blake— fights against Federation tyranny.

         That’s the basic premise of the 1978-1981 BBC TV series Blake’s 7.

         Created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks for Doctor Who, as well as the 1975-1977 TV series Survivors, Blake’s 7 ran for four 13-episode seasons.

         Although the series had an almost non-existent budget, it had relatable characters and an overall downbeat viewpoint. One reflected in the finale.

         I first learned about Blake’s 7 through articles in Starlog magazine in the 1980s, but didn’t see any episodes until 1993. The series up through the first few episodes of the third season aired on Detroit’s PBS station. I’ve no idea why the rest of the series wasn’t shown.

         In a two-part episode guide in Starlog #s 147 and 148 (Oct. & Nov. 1989), Blake’s 7 is described as a “52-episode mini-series.” That’s a fair assessment, helped in large part by the fact that Nation wrote the entire first season (he also wrote three episodes each of the second and third seasons, including the respective season premieres and the third season finale).

         There is a serialized aspect to Blake’s 7. The first episode, “The Way Back”, introduces Blake (Gareth Thomas), smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) and cowardly thief Vila Restal (Michael Keating); but we don’t meet amoral computer expert Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) or “gentle giant” Olag Gan (David Jackson) until the second episode, “Spacefall.” And it isn’t until the third episode, “Cygnus Alpha”, that we meet the Liberator’s sentient computer, Zen, (voice of Peter Tuddenham). The Liberator is also named (by Jenna) in that episode.

         And it’s not until “Time Squad”, the fourth episode, that Cally (Jan Chappell), the last of the original seven (Zen is considered one of the seven), joins the crew.

    Blakes 7 original crew

    (The original crew: Vila, Cally, Blake, Jenna, Avon and Gan stand in front of Zen. Photo courtesy the BBC.)

         Blake’s main nemeses, Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Space Commander Travis (Stephen Grief, season one; Brian Croucher, season two) don’t appear until the sixth episode, “Seek-Locate-Destroy.”

         Prior to the “The Way Back”, Blake had been captured, brainwashed and turned into a “model citizen” who’d denounced his rebellious ways. However, after he witnessed the massacre of unarmed rebels by Federation troopers, Blake presented a problem. The Federation can’t let him talk; and they can’t kill him. Too many people already doubt the sincerity of his “recanting”; his death even from apparently natural causes could make him a martyr.

         So they trump up charges of child molestation, using doctored “evidence” to “prove” Blake’s guilt. He’s convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Cygnus Alpha.

         Along with Jenna and Avon, Blake escapes the prison ship and gains possession of The Liberator. They subsequently free Vila and Gan.

         Several cast changes occurred over the course of the series. Gan died in the Nation-penned fifth episode of the second season; and Blake and Jenna both departed in that season’s finale. Jenna would never be seen again, but Blake would appear in both the third and fourth season finales. He implies in the final episode that Jenna had died.

         Prior to Gan’s death, Blake gained possession of a sophisticated computer called Orac (Tuddenham). And in the third season, smuggler and mercenary Del Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and weapons designer Dayna Mellanby (Josette Simon) join the Liberator crew.

         Following the destruction of the Liberator in the season three finale and the death of Cally in the season four premiere, the rebels take possession of the ship Scorpio, along with its computer, Slave (Tuddenham again), and join forces with gunfighter Soolin (Glynis Barber).

    Blakes 7 crew season 4

    (The final crew: Dayna, Tarrant, Avon, Vila, Soolin (plus Orac and Slave, not pictured). Photo courtesy the BBC).

         The crew didn’t always get along, and sometimes focused on their own interests. In “Cygnus Alpha”, after Jenna and Avon discover a fortune in jewels on board the Liberator, Avon points out that they could buy their own planet.

         He says “What about him?” in reply to Jenna’s “what about Blake?” (who’d teleported down to the planet); and adds that Blake is a crusader who can’t win.

         “What do you want to be, rich or dead?” Avon asks.

         In “The Web”, Cally commits sabotage while under alien influence. Avon advocates having her locked up. “Or dumped.”

         As in out an airlock.

         Avon often sparred with Blake, including this exchange in the episode “Breakdown.”

         Avon: “Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this-”

         Blake: “Yes?”

         Avon: “I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.”

         Blake: “Now you’re just being modest.”

         In “Pressure Point”, Avon argues against an attack on a Federation facility, but tells Blake that “of course” he’s coming along. A) Blake needs him; B) Avon relishes the challenge; and C) if Blake succeeds, he’ll be needed on Earth; and Avon will get the Liberator.

         In the end, Avon gets his wish. After Blake’s disappearance, Avon becomes leader of the rebels. In an interview in Starlog, Darrow joked that he’d advocated changing the show’s name to Avon’s Angels.

         In “Trial”, which follows Gan’s death, Avon points out that the others were almost ready to leave Blake, and that one more death will do it.

         “Then you’d better be very careful,” Blake says. “It would be ironic if it were yours.”

         Despite their sparring, Blake tells Avon in the second season finale, “Star One”, “I have always trusted you. From the very beginning.”

         The final episode, “Blake”, must have come as a shock to viewers. It kept people talking for years.

         Avon has learned that Blake is operating as a bounty hunter on a particular planet. The rebels go there, and Tarrant, separated from the rest, becomes convinced that Blake has sold them out. In truth, Blake is playing a dangerous game to find people he can trust to help him fight the Federation.

         Avon doesn’t give Blake a chance to explain his apparent betrayal, and kills him. Moments later, a Federation officer reveals herself and the rebels are gunned down (in slow motion). Avon stands alone.

         He steps over Blake’s body as Federation troopers surround him. He raises his gun and smiles.

         As the credits roll, we hear a single shot, followed by a volley of answering fire.

         Over the years, there have been theories and speculations regarding whether any of the rebels survived. Even attempts including one by Paul Darrow to revive the series. Even Nation (who wasn’t entirely happy about the ending; and also didn’t like some of the direction in which subsequent writers took the show) opined in Starlog #106 (May 1986) that “there’s a way of reviving them, and with some literary skill, we can get them back.”

         The only rebel who is unmistakably dead is Blake. In Starlog #114 (January 1987), Gareth Thomas said he had a clause written into his contract that boiled down to “Blake will be shown dead.” That’s why, unlike everyone else, Blake’s body is bloodied.

         According to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian this past summer, the Syfy Channel has ordered a pilot episode of a Blake’s 7 reboot. Whether or not anything comes of that, audio adventures, set during the events of the series (and featuring members of the cast), are available through Big Finish at http://www.bigfinish.com/ranges/v/blake-s-7

         According to Paul Darrow, the series lives on in spirit. In an interview someone posted on YouTube, he spoke of the movie Serenity and the TV series that inspired it, Firefly.

         “I think that’s your Blake’s 7 of today,” he said.

         There are superficial similarities between Blake’s 7 and Firefly/Serenity. Both crews oppose a central government, and both operate outside the law.

         And, just as Avon wanted the Liberator, Jayne Cobb wanted Serenity for his own. However, Avon was a genius; Jayne— not so much.

         Blake’s 7 is not (yet?) on DVD in the U.S., but if you have a region-2 or region-free DVD player (The U.S. is region-1), you can watch the DVDs released in Britain.

         Again, while it doesn’t have big budget special effects, Blake’s 7— especially the first two seasons— does offer an engaging story of a band of rebels fighting against the odds.

    Copyright 2012 Patrick Keating.

     

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