Hello Dear Reader,
Blake: A Rebel with a cause.
There are some television series that I can happily watch time and time again. They have a certain magic that never leaves. You do have to look past some of the faults, in fact, some of the inadequacies that grow old over time.
Blake’s 7 is one of those series that is like comfort food, you can just keep watching it. Well, at least it is for me. The series first aired in January 1978 and was billed as an adult sci-fi show. The basis of Blake’s 7 was very straight forward. Roj Blake, the central character, was a resistance leader against the Federation. His family and friends had been murdered as the Federation attempted to quell the resistance. The series had started just after Star Wars so there was a little comparing, however Blake’s 7 was an odd title at first. Who would be the 7? It did have the echoes for me of the Magnificent Seven, a group of ‘guns for hire cowboys’ brought together to beat the bad guys. Blake at the beginning is a pawn of the Federation, who realise that not only has he witnessed the death of other resistance members but his suppressed memories, start to re-awake. The government decide to fabricate charges and Blake is subsequently sentenced to a prison colony on Cygnus Alpha.
Still at the end of episode one we don’t actually have the supposed 7. It takes time to tell the story which is good. They build characters slowly with patient, making you want to be drawn into the plot. The second episode takes the story on quickly to bring the prisoners together with Blake leading the fight. He recruits four important people, Kerr Avon, Vila Restal, Jenna Stannis and Olag Gan. All them in their various ways realise they have one chance to survive and Blake might be that chance. That chance appears when the prison ship encounters an alien spaceship drifting. Blake, Jenna and Avon are forced to go over to discover what the ship contains. The three of them take over the ship and from Jenna’s thoughts is given a name.
This is when we get introduced to one of the iconic spaceships in sci-fi, the Liberator and it’s computer Zen. Blake manages to rescue Vila and Gan honouring his promise. After a one more episode Cally a telepathic alien joins the crew which makes six. So who is the seventh? Well, it is the ship itself. And so the struggle to break the Federation begins.
Blake’s 7 was created by Terry Nation for the BBC and ran for four series between 1978 and 1981. I was hooked considering it was another sci-fi series to add to Doctor Who and Star Trek. The BBC at that time, had a track record of producing plots which had to work given the limited special effects budget. The first series built on the characters, their struggle with their own freedom and the pursuit of what appears to be an unobtainable goal. There is also an internal battle between Blake and Avon, pushing the others to question what is it all for?
The initial stories were careful crafted, giving each of the characters a chance to develop within their own boundaries. Series one also had two interesting villains Servalan and Space Commander Travis. Servalan had plans to both crush any resistance and to capture the Liberator. Along with Travis, a commander who was ruthless in his methods, they attempted Blake and the Liberator on more than one occasion. However, it does not become the typical week-by-week chase as some series concentrated on. The first series ended on a cliff-hanger, one that gave a rather depressing view.
Naturally there would be a second series which had one shock that many did not expect. Many series place their characters into increasingly dangerous situations until something either has to break or they become immortal. This series pushed that limit and for its time, don’t forget this was the late 70’s, made everyone including the characters stop and think. It was concerning the death of one character. It was not unusual to lose a character but this one was both a main character and the loss was almost meaningless. It was designed to push the characters towards a final goal.
This led to a third series and sadly for me the beginning of Blake’s 7 downward trend. The break-up of the main crew, due to some people wishing to move on, introduced new people but disrupted the natural flow. Also some of the stories were not as polished as the first two series in my view. The acting became a little more confined which did not help the series. The end of the third series also saw the end of one true icon, the Liberator itself. I was not happy with that at all and to be fair the story had too many plot holes. The crew acted without care to the ship, the signs were there they had trouble but just did not seem to care. The fourth series gave the crew a base and another ship, old slow and unreliable. The stories continue the struggle of the growing Federation (again) and now small band of resistance. The fourth series had some merits but for me the damage had been done in series three. It ended at what could be thought of as a confusing point or depressing point. Many speculated that the final episode had at least three outcomes; that it was all set-up, that yes people died and the third option was at one character made it out alive.
Blake’s 7 was a curious series, aimed at adults and teenagers but viewed by many young children as well, given the promotions on BBCs Swop Shop ( that’s who different blog). It averaged 9 million viewers for the firsts series, then dropped to 7 for the second, Oddly enough, it picked up again for the third series to 9 million but drops for the final series to around 8 million. One of the reasons as I said, was the intelligent stories, for the most part. Many of them were written by Doctor Who writers hence the odd cross-over of actors between the two. It was a success for the BBC and another one of those series which has found further success from audio plays. There has been talk of a re-boot, many times. After Battlestar Galactica I was hopeful that this series would get something of a make-over. Imagine the special effects, a ‘proper’ designed bridge, engineering (we never saw that) and a ‘clean’Liberator. It’s a dream.
Many years ago I got the chance to meet almost all of the cast at a convention. It was fun of course and not surprising as to how many still held the show in such fond memories. As I said at the start of this blog, there are some series I can watch time and again. Blake’s 7 is one (apart from series 4) and I have done so over the past few weeks. I do wonder if it would ever be shown again on television maybe one of those repeat channels, there are so many of them.
Tagline: “Down and Safe”.