Cast: Michael Keating, Paul Darrow, Peter Tuddenham, Jan Chappell, Jacqueline Pearce, Gareth Thomas, Sally Knyvette, Steven Pacey, Joesette Simon, David Jackson, Glynis Barber
Genre: Space Opera
First Aired: 1978-1981
Wrapping up my boxsets of classic science fiction TV shows that I got last Christams comes Blake’s 7, and this really is a case of saving the best for last. Made by the BBC in the late seventies on what could charitably be called a shoestring budget, Blake’s 7 is remarkable not just for what it is, but for what it is not. Despite the PG age rating and the family nature of the BBC, Blake’s 7 is a wonderfully mature and at times undeniably dark piece of SF from an era that was characterised by the fun and camp.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the characters. Right from the start, we have Roj Blake, a terrorist falsely accused of paedophilia. Together with a thief, a smuggler and a hacker, he commandeers an advanced warship to continue his fight against the tyrannical Federation. These aren’t the lovable low-lifes you find in Firefly or Dark Matter, however. Blake is a manipulator, Jenna is a drug smuggler, Villa is a coward who freqwuently betrays his friends, and Avon – the runaway star of the show – is open from the outset about his plan to steal the ship for himself. Later additions to the team include Tarrant, who is as bad as Blake himself, and Dayna, whose thirst for venegance is all-consuming. About the only likable man in the bunch is Gan, and even he has a brain implant that renders him all but useless. Even the computers, Orac, Zen and Slave, are not particularly helpful or community-minded. Yet in spite of this, the characters are compelling, and you’re left wondering what will happen to them next. It’s an absolute masterclass in unlikable protagonists.
The show is let down on only two fronts. The first is that it’s special effects haven’t aged very well. This is particularly true when it comes to the handful of aliens the Liberator crew encounter. The puppetry is far from convincing, and I can’t help but feel prosthetics may have been a better option. No doubt this is why the aliens are so swiftly removed from the screen. The seond problem is that, for a show so willing to kill of its main characters, the show is curiously attached to its main villains. Servalan dominates every scene she enters, but her contuned survival poses questions about the capability of our (anti-) heroes. The same is true of her chief henchman Travis, who could easily have been written out in numerous different episodes.
While there are flaws, Blake’s 7 has an undeniable charm about it. The forty year-old costuming still looks good, though it has enough plastic and leather to make you ask questions about the designers. I for one am still waiting for the day that tunics come back into fashion. The spaceship models are clearly just that, but each one is marvellous to look at. So too is the set design a wonder to behold, whether it’s a wobbly-walled soundtage or a factory in the south of England.
I knew going in that the ending was a controversial one. i won’t spoil it here, even forty years on, but I it was an ending that I love. Shocking yet satisfying in equal measure, and one that I am still thinking about. If ever I get to produce a TV show, I wish to have an ending even half as good as Blake’s 7.
If you can get past the dated effects and acting, then Blake’s 7 still holds many treats. It has all the action, characters and themes you’d expect from something far more modern, and still holds up against presend day rivals.