Blake's 7

From Academic Kids

Blake's 7 was a BBC science fiction television series created by Terry Nation that ran four seasons from January 2, 1978 to December 21, 1981.

Contents

The series

Missing image
BlakeLiberator.jpg
Liberator

The series was created by Terry Nation, who had previously worked on Doctor Who and created the Doctor's most famous adversaries, the Daleks. It was made in the United Kingdom and was produced and broadcast by the BBC. Blake's 7 resembled other BBC science fiction shows (such as Doctor Who), but was characterised by a darker tone and often defied the traditional sharply-defined ethical stances associated with this type of drama, with considerable blurring of the distinction between the "good" and the "bad" guys (and gals).

Loosely based on the Robin Hood legend, the show followed the exploits of a group of outlaw revolutionaries, led by a patriot-hero named Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas), who fought the fascistic interstellar Terran Federation in the second century of the third calendar. Blake's 7 was watched by 10 million viewers at its peak, an enormous number for a space opera.

The show is noted for its strong focus on character; Blake and his band of outlaws were all highly individual, distinctive, and flawed, as often at each others' throats and in pursuit of their own private agendas as they were facing down their common enemies in the Federation. It also featured a remarkable attrition rate among its main characters, in violation of accepted practice for a drama of its nature. Unlike many mainstream TV dramas, the morally ambiguous or evil characters (specifically, Avon and the ruthless but charismatic Servalan) proved to be the most interesting, and both soon gathered dedicated fan followings.

According to actress Jacqueline Pearce, who played Servalan, Terry Nation originally intended her character to be a man, but halfway through writing the script he realised that it would be more interesting if the gender was reversed. Servalan was also meant to make only one appearance, but Pearce's commanding performance, great beauty and unusual close-cropped hairstyle made Servalan an instant hit and Pearce became a regular cast member.

The show's fascination with and careful study of dictatorial societies has made it a surprise hit in several Eastern European countries as a sort of pop culture 1984. Characters working for the evil Federation were often portrayed as being motivated by their own concepts of duty and loyalty, as well as the overpowering pressure exerted by society. Tactics studied from Stalinist Russia (such as forced psychiatric treatments and show trials) were intermixed with papier-mache giant spiders and fur-suited aliens.

Blake's 7 was also remarkable for its range of influences; dialogue inspired by Casablanca and The Importance of Being Earnest was mixed with Spaghetti Western nihilism and pure camp, as well as the odd plot and a major character stolen from Shakespeare. (Most of the cast had classical training, and actor Michael Keating played his character, Vila Restal, as if channelling Feste, the brilliant but flawed jester in Twelfth Night.)

One notorious characteristic of the show was its highly effective use of cliffhangers at the end of each season, a feature used to maximum effect in the fourth season's last episode, "Blake". This was deliberately written to be open-ended in case the series returned, but also to be final in case it did not.

Another notable (and often satirised) aspect of the show was the light construction of its sets. The "wobbly set syndrome" was particularly apparent during the numerous fight scenes—one presumes the actors had to be very careful to avoid colliding with the walls. Many scenes set on the surface of other worlds were filmed in quarries; fans of the show can now go on a Blake's 7 quarry location tour of the UK. The series also repeatedly used a corridor at Leeds Polytechnic. While some critics lampooned the comparatively meagre production values, it is only fair to note that, like Doctor Who, Blake's 7 was made with what would now be considered a tiny budget, only a fraction of what would typically have been spent on an American prime-time drama at that time.

In 2003 there was a revival movement (led by Andrew Mark Sewell and Simon Moorhead of B7 Enterprises) to create a new miniseries of the show entitled Blake's 7: Legacy. Series star Paul Darrow (who played Avon) was involved for a time but has since left the project. As of 2005 nothing more has emerged regarding the miniseries, though B7 Enterprises have been involved in the production of DVD compilations of series one and two.

Blakes 7's major legacy to future TV space opera was the use of moral ambiguity and dysfunctional main characters to create tension, as well as long-term plot arcs to hold episodes together. Most (though not always all) of these traits were seen in Lexx, Andromeda, Deep Space 9, Babylon 5, Farscape, and Enterprise, rather than the "feel good" tone and unconnected episode structure of early Star Trek. Blake's 7 was also arguably unique in TV SF in that it had a major influence on written SF, with the revival of written space opera in the '90s coming from the UK at the hands of writers such as Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, and Iain Banks. These authors are all of the generation that watched Blake's 7, and their work features morally ambivalent, often sarcastic and driven characters, whose usually violently-terminated lives are spent in vast and baroque spacecraft.

Plot summary

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BlakeAvon.jpg
Avon and Blake

Blake begins the series being captured by the Federation, convicted on trumped-up charges of child molestation, and sent to a remote penal colony planet called Cygnus Alpha. On the prisoner transport ship London, he meets most of his future crew, whom he convinces to join him in a mutiny to take over the London. The mutiny fails, but before Blake and his cohorts can be executed, the London comes upon a mysterious unidentified starship, apparently derelict from a space battle. After several crewmembers attempt to board it and are killed by the ship's automated defences, the London's captain decides to send Blake's group over to defuse them or die in the attempt. They take over the mysterious and highly advanced ship, name it the Liberator, and set out to topple the Federation. At least, that is Blake's goal. His other crew members, particularly Kerr Avon, follow him with various degrees of reluctance.

By the end of the second season, Gareth Thomas (Blake) sought an exit from the series. His character is written out, with Blake being lost in an escape pod after Liberator is damaged in a ferocious battle with invaders from the Andromeda Galaxy over the Federation's central computer complex, known as Star One. (Terry Nation proposed that the invaders would be revealed as the Daleks, but the BBC was not happy with tying together its two sci-fi franchises in this way.) Jenna is also lost. Del Tarrant, a mercenary who has been posing as a Federation trooper, is introduced to replace Blake, although Avon clashes even more frequently with Tarrant than he did with Blake. Avon eventually rises in dominance until he becomes the de facto leader of the group. The shadow of Blake remains strong over them, however, and they search for him sporadically throughout the remainder of the series.

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B7Scorpio.jpeg
Scorpio

Liberator is destroyed at the end of the third season, and the group soon acquires a new ship named Scorpio, together with a home base on the planet Xenon. The fight against the Federation continues, growing more desperate for both sides: the Federation was significantly weakened after the loss of Star One and the galactic war that followed, allowing Servalan (the Supreme Commander of its military forces) to seize power and sweep aside any remaining positive qualities the Federation may have had. She is later deposed and forced to operate on the fringes of the Federation in a lesser position under the alias "Sleer".

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B7Servalan.jpeg
Servalan

Finally, in a climax that ensured the show a lasting place in the history of television, the crew at last finds Blake working as a bounty hunter on a backwater planet named Gauda Prime. Mistakenly believing that Blake has betrayed them, Avon kills Blake (blood is shown). Federation troops overrun the remainder, shooting all except Avon (it is not clear whether they are dead). Surrounded, Avon raises his own weapon, and as the picture cuts to black, a flurry of gunfire is heard and the end credits roll.

Blake's death is shown in surprisingly graphic detail, considering that the episode ended at around 20:10 (well before the watershed for violence). The blood and gore was added at Gareth Thomas's insistence (it was in his contract), to prevent any assumption (by audience or future casting directors) that Blake was only wounded and could return.

Script editor Chris Boucher, who wrote the final episode, had planned on there being a fifth season to resolve the cliffhanger, where it would be revealed that crew had only been stunned by the Federation troops, and that the Blake that Avon killed was a clone from the season two episode Weapon. The series did return in the late 1990's as two radio plays (The Sevenfold Crown and The Syndeton Experiment) broadcast on BBC Radio. These were set in the Season 4 time-frame prior to the events on Gauda Prime. Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan ), Steven Pacey (Tarrant) and Peter Tuddenham (voice of Orac/Slave) reprised their original roles, with replacements Paula Wilcox and Angela Bruce as Soolin and Dayna.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) the cliffhanger ending, so-called "post Gauda Prime" stories about possible resolutions are a particularly popular topic in Blake's 7 fan fiction. The proposed sequel miniseries would centre around Avon, the only crewmember still standing in the final shot. It would reveal that Avon had not died, but was taken prisoner. The sequel would take place after Avon had been left to rot in prison for twenty years, forgotten or become a myth to the outside world, because most believed he was dead. Avon's return would be a parallel to the escape from Elba of Napoleon.

Trivia

  • When Terry Nation originally scripted the show, he intended Blake to have seven companions, hence the name Blake's 7. Due to budget constraints, however, Blake's crew never included more than six human actors at one time (including Blake, who was now counted as one of the seven). The show subtly addressed this discrepancy by counting one or more computers as members of the crew. Thus, the original seven were:
Humans: Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Jenna Stannis, Vila Restal, Olag Gan, Cally (6)
Computers: Zen (1)
By the end of the series, the lineup had become
Humans: Kerr Avon, Vila Restal, Del Tarrant, Dayna Mellanby, Soolin (5)
Computers: Orac, Slave (2)
Using this system, the total does actually add up to seven with fair consistency throughout the series.
  • The preceding list demonstrates the characteristic attrition of main characters (including Blake himself!) over the course of the series:
  • Gan killed early in Season B (replaced in the count by Orac; thereafter never more than five humans at one time)
  • Blake and Jenna lost at the end of Season B (replaced in the count by Dayna and Tarrant)
  • Zen destroyed and Cally killed at the end of Season C/start of Season D (replaced in the count by Slave and Soolin, respectively).
Travis, one of the main villains of the first two seasons, is killed at the end of Season B. He is never replaced by a recurrent character, as Servalan, the other main villain, henceforth has a tendency to quickly lose her sidekicks either by accident or by design.
  • The on-screen logo gave the series title as Blakes 7 without the apostrophe; fans often abbreviate the title as "B7".
  • Matt Irvine, who produced the series special effects (along with work on Doctor Who), later revealed that the Liberator ended up facing the wrong way. As originally designed, the spherical end would face in the direction of travel. The mixup was blamed on a member of the BBC props department.
  • The fourth season wasn't originally supposed to be made, but the ratings success of the third season caused a fourth to be made. In fact the first that any of the cast and crew heard about a fourth season was a continuity annoucement after the first showing of Terminal. This change of heart occurred so late that producer David Maloney had been re-assigned to the BBC's production of Day of the Triffids. With a new producer needed the BBC offered the job to Terence Dudley, who refused as he wanted to retire from producing and directing. Instead, the job was given to Vere Lorrimer, a frequent director on the series. Script editor Chris Boucher was being considered to replace Christopher H. Bidmead as script editor of Doctor Who, but opted to stay on for the fourth season of Blake's 7.

End-of-season cliffhangers

  • Season A: A look into the future shows Liberator apparently destroyed by a sudden explosion.
  • Season B: Liberator must engage an overwhelmingly large fleet of enemy starships until Federation warships arrive.
  • Season C: Liberator is destroyed, stranding its crew on the planet Terminal. (Originally intended as an end-of-series cliffhanger.)
  • Season D: Avon kills Blake; Federation troops apparently kill entire Scorpio crew except for Avon, who seems about to suffer the same fate. (End of series -- so far.)

Cast

Episode List:

1978 (Season A)

  1. The Way Back
  2. Space Fall
  3. Cygnus Alpha
  4. Time Squad
  5. The Web
  6. Seek Locate Destroy
  7. Mission to Destiny
  8. Duel
  9. Project Avalon
  10. Breakdown
  11. Bounty
  12. Deliverance
  13. Orac

1979 (Season B)

  1. Redemption
  2. Shadow
  3. Weapon
  4. Horizon
  5. Pressure Point
  6. Trial
  7. Killer
  8. Hostage
  9. Countdown
  10. Voice from the Past
  11. Gambit
  12. The Keeper
  13. Star One

1980 (Season C)

  1. Aftermath
  2. Powerplay
  3. Volcano
  4. Dawn of the Gods
  5. The Harvest of Kairos
  6. City at the Edge of the World
  7. Children of Auron
  8. Rumours of Death
  9. Sarcophagus
  10. Ultraworld
  11. Moloch
  12. Death-Watch
  13. Terminal

1981 (Season D)

  1. Rescue
  2. Power
  3. Traitor
  4. Stardrive
  5. Animals
  6. Headhunter
  7. Assassin
  8. Games
  9. Sand
  10. Gold
  11. Orbit
  12. Warlord
  13. Blake

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