Blake’s Seven

I grew up with Blake’s Seven. It was one of only a very few new SF TV shows on when I was a a kid. The others, for context, were Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I avidly watched Doctor Who and Battlestar, but avoided Buck Rogers for complicated reasons I don’t remember. Repeats meant I knew of Lost In Space and Star Trek (the original series). SF at the movies suitable for a kid of my age was dominated by Star Wars.

I only mention all that to help understand why it was I loved Blake’s Seven at the time, and why it is that I currently wouldn’t call myself a fan of the series yet I do have a fondness for it. I know I read some of the tie-in books, but not the one by Paul Darrow, and I haven’t listened to any of the Big Finish audio plays.

I have interacted with the TV series three times: first as a first time audience slightly younger than the target audience yet more than able to ‘get it’; secondly as a young adult SF fan watching it with first-timers of my age group and seeing it through their eyes; and now as an older SF fan who writes critiques and fiction and is interested in seeing what influenced me.

I had intended to watch Blake’s Seven again at some stage, and was prodded to by the death of Gareth Thomas earlier this year. Or, to be strictly accurate, the mentions of the show in my Twitter feed relating to the actor’s death. I tweeted the odd ‘spoiler free’ observation on my watch, which I finished last night. I did fair rocket through them, usually watching three or four episodes in a sitting.

Overall, seasons 1 to 3, and then the last episode of season 4, have a nihilism not usually present in most SF for a general audience. I think, actually, that’s what I still like about it. The scripts, characters, acting, and direction are all generally excellent, as are the sets and model work (though very, very dated for a modern audience used to computer-generated SFX). The story arcs for each character are amazingly consistent given the episodic nature of what is really an adventure show.

Season 1 is astonishingly good as far as the role of women is concerned. Women aren’t just present, they have agency. Two friends said to me when we were talking about the series yesterday that they thought it was because creator Terry Nation was writing ciphers rather than male characters or female characters. But, Ben Steed needs to be called out for outright misogyny – more in his season 4 script (Power) than his season 3 one (Moloch).

Race is a whole other thing. In fact, during season 1 I was wondering if the Federation dystopia includes a back story of where everyone who is not white was wiped out. That carries through (was it one of the unstated reasons why Hal Mellanby left Earth?), and I wonder if this was ever conscious or not. I suspect the latter. I am interested in other people’s views on that.

Season 4 is just – odd. I remember it best because we had a video recorder by that point and could record and re-watch. (We actually got it at when season 3 was nearing the end of its run on Aussie TV, so parts of Moloch and Terminal I remember very well). It wasn’t until I re-watched Blake last night that I was so struck by how different in tone the rest of season 4 is to the rest of the show. It’s not just the set and costume changes, it’s the whole feel. The little night-club bounce in the theme tune kind of catches it – far more big 1980s pizzaz rather than the edgier political darkness that was always there in the others. Blake brings that right back, and I’m not talking about the last scene.

Anyway, highlights remain Servalan – Jacqueline Pearce is phenomenal all the way through; the Liberator; and Peter Tuddenham’s amazingly diverse voices for the various computers, and I adore the odd times when Orac, Zen and Slave interact (never the three together, sadly).

My favourite episodes are Duel, Sarcophagus, and Blake. I also like Sand, and Ultraworld surprised me in being better than I remembered. The weirdest thing was watching Killer – I know I had seen it, quite likely more than once, but I had no memory of it. Odd, because it’s very good, and has the most extraordinary costumes.

Anyway. Blake’s Seven. Very much of its time and place, and I enjoyed it more than not.

Oh, and I most definitely prefer Stephen Grief’s portrayal of Travis then Brian Croucher’s.