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Back in January 1978, I was in my last year in primary school, coming up to my eleventh birthday; and Blake's 7 started, the story of a group of desperate future freedom fighters battling against the evil Federation. I see that there is now a new version being webcast, and as soon as I can work out how to download these and convert to MP3s for easy listening, I'll be onto it. (Technical assistance on this gratefully accepted.) (Though they are by Ben Aaronovitch, so not sure how excited I can get.)

But meantime I sat down and re-watched the first three TV episodes from 1978. After getting over my shock at how young they all look (all in their 30s, I think, so younger than I am now), I found myself really enjoying it. The first three episodes are a more tightly-linked narrative than the others, as Blake gets together his team and gets control of the alien technology of the Liberator. But they feel very different from each other as well; this is not yer six-part Terry nation Doctor Who story.

The Way Back: A lot of effort goes into building up a picture of a future Earth which (if I remember correctly) we never actually return to over the next four seasons. (See the director's reflections on this.)

There are some surprising weaknesses in it - there are longueurs that would be intolerable in today's Doctor Who, whose episodes are about the same length. One has to ask oneself why, if the Federation holds life so cheap (the body count in this episode must surely be one of the highest for the entire series), they don't simply kill Blake off as they do so many others. Also the mind-control aspects of the plot, which are potentially very interesting in a Philip K Dick kind of way, are simply left aside by later writers if I remember rightly. But the atmosphere of the repressive government is brilliantly conveyed; these are people that you immediately want to fight against, and you want Blake to fight against them and win.

On one minor plot point: It is difficult to imagine framing someone on paedophilia charges being treated so incidentally in a drama written today. I wonder if Terry Nation got this one from Roger Zelazny's Today We Choose Faces, published in 1973, where the narrator(s) (one of whose names is Black) do(es) the same thing to a minor character (who turns out to be his/their love interest's father).

Space Fall: I think the least successful of the three, in that it just involves people talking and occasionally fighting on a spaceship, or on two spaceships (once we find out about the Liberator). Having said that, we have a lot of useful introduction - Jenna, Avon and Gan all make their first appearances here (Vila having already been briefly in the previous episode). And we are slightly on tenterhooks as to who is actually going to be a regular character and who isn't: the unfortunate Nova looks at first like he is going to be one of the Seven, but then gets suffocated by oozing gel.

The Federation officials continue to be utterly horrible, with Leylan, who seems like the nice cop, unable to restrain the nasty Raiker. And the contrast between the functional Federation ship and the alien if dusty Liberator (not yet called that) is effective.

Cygnus Alpha: This is the one where we meet the alien technology of teleportation, that point where Blake's 7 tried to prove that it was not just aping Star Trek - the visuals were different, the psychological approach to the technology was different, though unfortunately it still worked just exactly the same as the elder version. It memorably features Brian Blessed as Vargas, the leader of the peculiar cult on the eponymous prison planet, which ends with exactly what Avon had predicted happening to him: "I would imagine that they would appear momentarily in space, and then that their atoms would be scattered to the solar winds."

Again, it's not clear who is going to be among the 7 until the very last moment - especially since, in fact, we are still not up to our full complement by episode's end, with only five humans aboard the Liberator (we don't yet know for sure that Zen counts as one of them).

Oddly enough the teleportation technology is an excuse for a significant exchange between Blake, Avon and Jenna. The two men have just discovered that they both had worked on a project on a similar technology back on earth; Jenna tells them sharply, "I didn't work on it." It's almost a defining moment: the key relationship in the series is between Blake and Avon, and the women are sidelined now and mostly hereafter as well. I have written before about Terry Nation's women characters, concluding by praising him for the introduction of Soolin in later Blake's 7 series, but Nick Barlow pointed out that in fact she almost certainly came from someone else.

Anyway, I shall press on with these, and report back here as I do.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
purpletigron
May. 17th, 2007 09:09 am (UTC)
Yes! I only remember seeing later episodes when originally broadcast (I'm a critical year or two younger than you :-)
bopeepsheep
May. 17th, 2007 09:24 am (UTC)
I have series 1 on DVD sitting here waiting for an excuse to revisit it - and introduce narenek to it, as shockingly he's never seen it (ok, he wasn't 2 in Jan 78 but that's no excuse, UK Gold reran it at least twice). And then I shall decide whether smallclanger is old enough for it and watch it all over again with him if he is. :D

A Big Important Decision of my life was made around Blake's 7, incidentally. Well, Big and Important for a seven year old, anyway. I joined the Tuesday Brownies pack despite the fact that I would be separated from all my close friends, because the other pack met at a time that clashed with Blake's 7 and NWIH was I going to miss that! :D
daveon
May. 17th, 2007 10:48 am (UTC)
I missed Episode 1, I was at a friend's house and we missed it. I got into it after that.

I liked the Teleporter exchange. "Small universe.", "No, big project..."

I know that feeling.
sammywol
May. 17th, 2007 11:44 am (UTC)
I saw Episode one when it first aired and hated it so much - as a kid I didn't like to see the baddies win - that I didn't watch it again until season 3. I have since filled in the gaps. What a dumb decision that early rejection was!
sammywol
May. 17th, 2007 11:58 am (UTC)
My impression of the series is that it gets steadily better. The early episodes are rather hampered by a small budget, most of which gets blown in ep. 1 I believe (ie. a later instance of a soldier wearing red camoflage (sort of) gear but the red filter that the film was going to be put through never materializes so she stands out against the pale grey of the Dr Who gravel pit like, well, something painted bright red - no wonder she is the sole survivor of her colour blind Resistance cell). The novelization of these episodes fills in some of these gaps in sense and I read that long before I got to see the episodes.

Brian Blessed is always fun though. Do you think he had on his 1980s resume "Actor: speciality SHOUTING!"

The dynamic between Jenna and Blake is a shade bizarre. The scripts frequently pair them up but the expected frisson of chemistry never really develops. I think Avon is a bit like Spike in Buffy, a side character who proves impossible to suppress, gradually hogging more and more of the limelight (and the best lines), although Avon doesn't get shafted by resentful scriptwriters in quite the same way.

They do go back to Earth but not to that environment. I don't remember the mind control ever being revisited. In fact it isn't until season 4 that we get to see the federation indulging in large scale population mood management again.

As for the not aping Trek. I think the name 'Federation' and the symbol being a sideways version of the Trek one made it clear that Nation was playing with the same ideas but taking a sideways view at some of the elements of Rodenberry's Utopia. As a kid I thought of B7 as being about the Trek Federation's rather embarrassing early days.

Will shut up now ...
iainjcoleman
May. 17th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC)
Mind control is revisited in season 4's Animals, widely regarded as the worst B7 episode ever broadcast.
altariel
May. 18th, 2007 11:36 am (UTC)
But not universally.
(Deleted comment)
redfiona99
May. 17th, 2007 01:08 pm (UTC)
I still haven't seen episode one but your reaction to Nova was pretty much mine because he seemed like a nice useful person.

>>e two men have just discovered that they both had worked on a project on a similar technology back on earth; Jenna tells them sharply, "I didn't work on it." It's almost a defining moment: the key relationship in the series is between Blake and Avon, and the women are sidelined now and mostly hereafter as well. I have written before about Terry Nation's women characters, concluding by praising him for the introduction of Soolin in later Blake's 7 series, but Nick Barlow pointed out that in fact she almost certainly came from someone else.<<

That interests me because I always took it to be a comment on the Federation's very hierarchical set up where you kept to your own people and only as outlaws do the different classes mix.

I got very annoyed by how they treated Jenna and Cally as characters because they're brought in as a brilliant space pilot/pirate and a freedom fighter respectively, but then an awful lot of what they're good at gets given to the boys to do, and they just get to stand around and scream.

The Stu that's often mentioned in my Who reviews is listening to the new audios to try and get into B7, because he didn't like the TV show. I shall ask him if there are ways and means of MP3 conversion.
watervole
May. 17th, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
Some of the writers, like Chris Boucher, could write for all the characters including the women (epsiodes like 'Shadow' are really good ensemble pieces) and some, like Ben Steed, could not.
tanngrisnir
May. 17th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
This is the one where we meet the alien technology of teleportation, that point where Blake's 7 tried to prove that it was not just aping Star Trek - the visuals were different, the psychological approach to the technology was different

Psychological approach was different? In what way? (It has been so long since I saw this I can't remember it clearly enough to see your point.)

The visuals certainly were different. Trek's transporter made you go WOW! and believe you were looking at a teleportation device; B7's made you snort and believe you were looking at the cheapest video effect available to the BBC. ;O)
nwhyte
May. 17th, 2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
By "psychological approach" I meant that the Blake's 7 guys are dealing with a new and alien tech which hardly anyone else has access to; for Star Trek, teleportation is old hat and everyone can do it. "psychological" is certainly the wrong word, but I couldn't think of the right one!
tanngrisnir
May. 17th, 2007 09:25 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, I see what you mean. Probably more my knackered-brain-barely-firing-on-one-cylinderness than any flaw in your word choice.

altariel
May. 18th, 2007 11:43 am (UTC)
I hadn't heard that story about the set design on 'The Way Back' before, brilliant. Somewhere in the imaginative ether there is a completely different show that took place entirely on Earth. Looking forward to your posts as you rewatch.
timrollpickerin
Nov. 29th, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)
a future Earth which (if I remember correctly) we never actually return to over the next four seasons.

They go back in "Pressure Point" and "Rumours of Death", but neither shows wider society at all.

One has to ask oneself why, if the Federation holds life so cheap... they don't simply kill Blake off as they do so many others.

Because Blake would still be dangerous to them as a martyr that others could rally behind. They had to discredit him.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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