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Blake’s Seven

May 22, 2013


Blake’s Seven was to Doctor Who what Battlestar Galactica was to Star Trek – a kind of disreputable first cousin.  Created by Dalekmeister Terry Nation with the key assistance of Chris Boucher, Blakes Seven created a dystopian future, challenged by a handful of political  refugees, who never looked like winners.  At no point did Blake, or any of his followers, look like toppling the Federation.  Instead, the seven of them seemed to focus on simply staying alive for another 53 minutes, occasionally taking part in hit and run displays of creative terrorism.

The writing is fairly good.  Terry Nation writes many of the early episodes, while the later ones are parcelled out.  Chris Boucher wrote some key stories and others were written by the very greatest and most special of Doctor Who scriptwriters – Robert Holmes.  Chris Boucher, as script editor, was charged with the sacred task of preventing Terry Nation from inserting Daleks into any story.

There was the delicious expendability of the characters.  Any one of these seven might be killed with a glancing shot and replaced at any moment.  Even Blake himself was expendable, and the last two seasons trotted on in the same vein without him very nicely, although the IDEA of his still being alive was essential.  The only two constants were Vila and Avon.  Vila was a kind of Wozzeck in space, who came close to breaking the fourth wall with his shrugs and sighs.  Vila was not only scared all the time, he was tired all the time, and this is why we sincerely loved him.  His survival was the result of a firm and affectionate belief among the TV audience that were they to be trapped on the Liberator or Scorpio, they could at least do as well as Vila.  Avon was a masterclass in studied steely cynicism – cynicism so perfect it had a kind of integrity to it.  In his own carefully defined way, Avon could always be trusted (or trusted to act in certain ways in certain circumstances) and (in rather existential terms) you could see Avon improvising his own rule book as the series went on.  A prime example of dystopian self fashioning.  And he was superbly played.  In his pomp, on a very good day, Paul Darrow could have gone head to head with Alan Rickman in a sneering contest.

It’s easy to sneer at the budgets and the special effects, but one of the reasons why television drama of that era was so good, is that it flattered theatrical rather than cinematic expectations.  When you think of the screen as a theatre, with a set – rather than a cinematic spectacle – your imagination works in a different way.  May think more about this later.

I didn’t cry when any of these characters got wasted, but I came close to tears at the end of series three when the Liberator itself started to rot and was destroyed.  It was a lovely ship – a very clever shape – and became a character in itself – “Zen” merely being the personification of its elegance – the only really beautiful thing in a very ugly universe.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    RIP Gareth “Blake” Thomas

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