Something I had been thinking about doing.
A guy I know on Facebook has a podcast (to be fair that covers 40% of the people I know on facebook) on a recent-ish episode he talked about shows that are, could be, and shouldn’t be re-booted and one of the ones he mentioned was 70’s low budget sci-fi ‘classic’ Blake’s 7. Now I have seen an episode here and there, nothing really grabbed me, so I moved on. It is often referenced, considered a cult classic by many, but the stink of 70’s TV sci-fi hung over it, low budget, low action and low quality, so I never really thought it worth my time.
Now when the podcast mentioned it, a curious part of me decided to give it a try. It was easy to do, given that almost the whole thing is on YouTube.
The show itself is something of an oddity in a number of ways and within a single episode had subverted my expectations and by the second, I was hooked. It occurred to me to write about it, the way I wrote about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, so that’s what I intend to do.
So let’s do that with Season 1.
Roj Blake – Gareth Thomas
Kerr Avon – Paul Darrow
Jenna Stannis – Sally Knyvette
Vila Restal– Michael Keating
Cally – Jan Chappel
Oleg Gan -David Jackson
Zen/ Orac – Peter Tuddenham
Servalan – Jacqueline Pearce
Travis -Stephen Greiff
Season one started with The Way Back which aired in January 1978. The world of Blake’s 7 is a far future dystopia, with humanity spread out to the stars, but the majority of humanoid life being ruled by the tyrannical Federation. Most people are okay with this, mostly because the populace are eating food laced with drugs that promote obediance and lower resistance. This is the story of Roj Blake, who was something of an activist leader, but whose movement was violently put down by the Federation’s security people. He was arrested and before he was tried, subjected to horrifying mind control techniques, then he testified, showing remorse and singing the praises of the compassionate and merciful Federation. Many potential dissidents learn the lesson, don’t screw with the state, you will not win. He’s then completely brain neutered, put on the drugged food and lives a quiet uninteresting life. This is all before the first episode.
Some survivors of Blake’s original group find him and bring him back into the fold, they are quickly massacred and Blake arrested, for the crime of being brought to an activism meeting. Realising the PR nightmare this entails, the Federation try some dirty tricks and frame him for child abuse. Do they place pictures in his belongings? No. What they do is using the same brainwashing technology implant false memories of abuse in the minds of 4 children. Think about that for one second. That would mean that 4 children suffer the horrors of surviving abuse, which will most likely stay with them for their entire lives for what is essentially the political act of smearing a dissenting voice. When the trial comes, well it’s not really much in question and Blake is sentenced to a prison planet. His lawyer starts to get suspicious, but is killed along with his wife. Blake is our hero, Blake is a broken man who is a convicted sex offender and is on his way to prison. That’s episode 1.
Episodes 2 through 4 give us the rest of the team, smuggler Jenna Stannis, thief Vila Restal, freedom fighter Cally, violent murderer Oleg Gan and amoral hacker Kerr Avon. All but Cally are on the prison ship with Blake and he escapes onto a conveniently abandoned space ship. On the ship is it’s AI who is soon called Zen. With his memories returning and his outrage growing, Blake decides to use this alien ship, dubbed the Liberator as a weapon against the Federation. With nowhere else to go, Cally, Avon, Vila, Jenna and Gan join this crusade.
7 against the tyrants, or killers and thieves turned terrorists attack the legitimate government? Both are true and the story keeps this bleak tone through the season. This is the brainchild of Terry Nation, the man who brought us the Daleks and it has that feel to the whole season. Blake isn’t really a hero here, he’s angry and wants revenge, he may not be wrong to want it, but that is what he is after. He doesn’t fight for a better world, just the destruction of the one he was in. Most of the cast, including Blake are fairly bland and inoffensive as characters, many of the team follow the charismatic Blake because of him and you get the feeling if he was doing something else, they’d help with that instead. With the cast and premise in place, we then start getting some sci-fi tropes and stories that we kind of expect, the kind of half Star Trek, half Battlestar Galactica stuff that you get with a TV show like this. So that also means we get villains, here we get the obsessive arch-nemesis Space Commander Travis, who chases Blake with the tenacity of a dog chasing a ball, he’s sent after the team by Supreme Commander Servalan, who plays the role as if she’s auditioning for Dynasty, all ballgowns and femme fatale.
Normally I would site stand-out episodes here, but with only 13 episodes, there isn’t much in the way of episodes you can ignore out of hand. The quality varies from episode to episode and the pacing does leave something to be desired, but the cast are earnest enough to make it work and look ordinary enough to make it relatable. There are no pretty boys here, this is average looking people, middle aged men and more than one guy a few pounds over fighting weight. In a TV landscape of unnaturally pretty people in brightly coloured sets in an upbeat-ish world and there’s none of that here and it’s refreshing.
There are a few standout performances though, Servalan is clearly having so much fun here, all sexy and cold-blooded, long before V and Dynasty made these things staples of 80’s TV and the morally grey Avon is one of the best characters in this, with his dry delivery and understandable issues with how the rest of the team operate. We can’t all be Blake, most of us can however empathise with Avon.
Is this show for everyone? I can’t imagine that. Is this a polished show with top line effects? Oh lord no, this is a sci-fi show on a 70’s budget. Is this the greatest show on TV? No, this isn’t high art, this is a bit of a pop-culture car-wreck and for all those reasons I really enjoyed it.
I’ve enjoyed the hell out of watching this and am going to carry on with it all. Was quite happy to find it all on YouTube, because I’d be hard pressed to consider this worth putting out hard cash or shelf space for.
Bye for now internet people.