Monday, 30 August 2010

Blake's 7: Blake


Blake's 7 is a strange series in many ways. Frequently camp as Christmas, yet often unremittingly grim. The show was created by Terry Nation, he of the Daleks and post apocalyptic Survivors series (as well as the jobbing writer for any number of other popular telefantasy shows). The series was conceived as "the dirty dozen in space", but is as much informed by Star Trek, Doctor Who, Survivors, 1984, the second world war, the cold war and any number of folk tales.

Consistently underfunded and under-appreciated by the BBC its production values made 70s era Who look like 90s era Trek. The directorial style in particular is generally bland and lacking in flair and ambition. The show borrowed heavily from the Doctor Who talent pool with Who stalwart Robert Holmes being a regular writer. The more important writer, perhaps more so than Nation himself in later years, was Chris Boucher.

When it was at its best the show was superlatively brilliant, taught edgy plots meeting cracking dialogue spoken by iconic and complex characters. At its worst it really is bad. There's not much in between to be fair, so you probably get a ration of 3 classics to 1 stinker and 1 average show. The bottom line is that you can't consider yourself a sci-fi or cult TV fan if you've not seen this series. The show was a key influence on genre classic Babylon 5 and the premise was basically lifted wholesale for the short-live (but brilliant) Firefly series. They are all out on DVD and they are routinely on offer too.

Anyway, the story so far (in very brief):

Season One: How the band gets together, takes control of the Liberator (the most powerful spaceship in the Galaxy) and starts to fight the Federation.

Season Two: Blake goes on the offensive against the Federation and plans to bring down its main control centre. The series ends with Blake joining forces with the federation to fight off an alien invasion from Andromeda.

Season Three: Blake and Jenna are gone and Avon finale gets to be in charge. The Federation is badly disabled. Avon and Friends explore the Galaxy a bit with only occasional confrontations with the Federation until the Season finale. Servelan (camp, transexual wannabe, dictator of the Federation) springs a trap on the crew. The Liberator is destroyed.

Season Four: Cally dies and Avon is never the same again. The Federation begins to massively and aggressively re-expend. Avon gets steadily more and more psychotic as EVERYTHING goes wrong for our band. He tries to organise a counter-federation of all the independent worlds only to be betrayed by the leading faction.

Before you go any further check out this EPIC fan made trailer:

All of which takes us to the last ever episode.


The story picks up from the events of Warlord, in which Avon had tried to build an alliance against the Federation. He was sold out and the location of his base was revealed to the Federation so he and the crew decide its time to get the fuck out of dodge. They leave the base blowing it up in the process, but Avon has a new plan.

As the episode title suggests the new plan involves Blake. Avon has used Orac to trace him and they have found him on a frontier world, Gauda Prime. Gauda Prime was a Wild West type planet run by crooks and murderers. Soolin was born their and saw her parent's killed. She is therefore none to pleased to hear from Avon that the thugs in charge of the planet are petitioning to join the Federation, thereby legitimising their rule over the planet and protecting their position in charge.

As they approach Gauda Prime the ship is attacked and everyone bar Tarrant beams off. Tarrant managers to crash land the Scorpio on the planet in a sequence that was ripped-off in Star Trek Generations:

Meanwhile Blake is posing on the planet as a bounty hunter. He uses himself as bait to track another bounty hunter, Arlen, with the intention of recruiting her to the cause.

Tarrant survives the crash and is rescued by Blake. Blake takes Tarrant back to his base on Gauda Prime and we find out that Jenna died in a blaze of glory.

Dayna, Soolin and Villa set up camp in an abandoned building. Villa leaves a fire going which allows a bounty ship and Avon to trace the site. Avon shoots the ship down and they follow Blake's ship back to his base.

This is when all hell breaks loose. Tarrant completely misunderstands Blake's intentions and believes he has sold them all out to the Federation. In actual fact it is Arlen that has sold them out. The episode reaches a bloody climax:

Avon asks "Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!". Blake's answer is fatal he says "I set all this up". Avon was totally batshit paranoid by this point having been screwed over several times in the last two years and he interprets these words as "I set YOU up". He shoots Blake and Blake dies in his arms:

his last words are "Avon".

Arlen gloats that Blake was right, he couldn't tell the Federation from the rebels any more:

and the bloodbath continues:



Avon is oblivious, practically catatonic.

Soolin falls.

And finally, Tarrant.

The Federation Guard moves in on Avon:

And Avon takes his place standing over the fallen Blake:

The Camera cuts in:

And again:

And again:

And again:

And Avon smiles one last crazed, ironic, nihilistic, smile:

The picture freezes, the credits hit and we hear the sound of multiple shots over the names "Avon" and "Paul Darrow":

Then the familiar theme tune begins:

And the series is no more.

This was not just the season finale, it was the last ever episode of the show. It went out a few days before Christmas thereby traumatising thousands of children. The irony is that Season 3 was supposed to be the final episode, but the series was recommissioned. Series 4 was not meant to be the final episode at all. Chris Boucher has planned to continue into series 5 with any of the cast that signed back on, but the continuity announcer stated that it was the last ever episode and that was that.

In my mind this is probably the best episode of the show. It is unremittingly bleak and nihilistic. Everyone we came to care about had died before the episode or during the episode. The Federation turn out to be the winners and probably stronger than they were at the start of the show. Our hero's lost big time. This is entirely apt. It was only realistic that the tactical advantages of two superior ships and one superior computer would ultimately be overcome by the might of an entire interstellar empire. Particularly as one as ruthless as the Federation was. Nevertheless, this sort of thing does not normally happen in tele-fantasy finales and would not have happened had the show gone to a fifth series as Boucher and Nation wanted.

One side affect of the curtailment of the series is that Jacqueline "Servelan" Pearce was not present for the finale. This was because she had already starred in her contracted number of episodes for that year. This was a sore point for her, although the writers have said that they had not deliberately set out to exclude her from the last ever episode. However, the absence of Servelan serves the episode well. Just as Blake could never bring himself to kill Travis directly, so Servelan could never quiet bring herself to dispose of Avon face-to-face. Arlen had no such compunctions and also lacked the camp factor of Servelan. The result is that the conclusion is played entirely straight and is extremely bleak.

Ever since the episode aired there have been numerous stories and theories put forward to continue the story and explain how one or more members of the crew could have survived. Boucher himself intended for Avon and Villa at least to survive. Nation tried to revive the series on the basis of Avon alone surviving in exile like a futuristic Napoleon. Years later "Blake's 7 Enterprises" attempted to use a similar idea to sell a continuation to Sky (don't even get me started on their incompetence). For me though I can't help but think that Blake's 7 is now a series that would better suit a "re-imagination" rather than a continuation, particularly since several cast members have been lost over the years.

On a personal note, I first saw this episode in 1994 when I was 14. I did not have access to the net or any episode guides, although I did know from Sky's pre-advertising that Blake was the last episode. I was fully expecting a rabbit out of a hat after the events of Warlord until there was about 10 minutes left and I realised that there was no way that Avon, Blake and Co were going to beat the Federation, even then I did not see the climax coming. When it did I was utterly shocked and I experienced exactly what the contemporary viewers must have felt. Years on this episode continue to hold considerable power and holds up to repeated re-viewings. Blake's 7 had a dozen or so episode that are classic SF stories and another twenty or so that hold up as being very good indeed. For me Blake is the greatest of them all. I have used the word nihilistic several times, but this episode could be the very definition of the word. Certainly no over drama I have seen can match Blake (Life on Mars final moments are the closest, but not in the same league at all). By circumstances of intention and accident it is a classic tragedy that could easily be performed (or "re-imagined") as a standalone story in any media with precious little alteration. It is a masterpiece.

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