Hang on a minute! This is a blog about Blake’s 7, isn’t it? Well yes, but it’s my blog, and my rules, and I simply wouldn’t have got into Blake’s 7 if Doctor Who hadn’t been a part of my life for so long. My love of these two series are inextricably linked to my interest in how the complexities of a futuristic and demanding drama production is planned, filmed, taped and edited in a (then) multi camera television landscape – something of which was perhaps suited more favorably toward drama that didn’t rely on C.S.O, futuristic set design, matte shots, locked off camera effects, inlays, overlays, colour synthesisers, and a range of elaborate visual effects designed for television – when television was designed to be like theatre. In short, Who and Blake, and other shows of their time, went that little bit further to get made, pushed the boundaries of time and resources to achieve a sense of wonderment, and simply went that extra mile.
In Blake’s 7 Monthly David Maloney summed up the budgetry challenges, when interviewed during the making of the third series.
‘Well, it’s a very expensive programme to put out early in the evening. There are far less expensive programmes which go out in prime time. And I think they possibly found it difficult being sure whether they could afford such an expensive programme to go out at 7.20 in the evening.’
‘…well we were under-budgeted for the first series, and we had a sufficient budget on the second series and we’ve got more or less the that same budget this time. As we’re a low budget show anyway, I don’t really feel that our budget can be improved now unless we get ten times the money we’ve got – and the time, because time is money.‘
It’s a seductive tale to tell, and one that fandom enjoys hearing about frequently. And it sets the tone of this blog. It is the extra blood, sweat and tears that I find fascinating to explore, and I have complete admiration for. I think of all BBC telefantasy by imagining a new producer, walking into a studio session of an established BBC drama that he is about to take control of. Lets call the producer ‘Graham Williams’ and lets call this drama ‘Doctor Who’. The result? Williams walks out of the recording session feeling he’s lived in the stone age. And that is just in the studio sessions, imagine what it is like the rest of the year. So in this blog, I’ll do what we all do from time to time and mock wobbly set design, dreadful CSO in ‘Duel’ and poor superimposing. But underneath it all I never forget the constraints of broadcast television in the 1970’s. In fact I marvel that it got made at all.
I marvel that it got made at all. Ah, yes. Season 15 of Doctor Who. The season that got made…at all.
Series 15 is two seasons for the price of one.
The transmitted’ season 15 is everything that Doctor Who is, and can be. The season that showcases the full potential of the show. It’s past, present and future, it frivolous and weighty, dignified and crude, it’s established, and new, it’s rich in legend and folklore but at the same time looks ahead and depicts the far future. It’s got a man, a woman and a robot dog. It’s got fabulous model work. It looks like it was made with too little money, but what’s new there? And it feels more ‘spacey’ than other recent series.
Perhaps it’s spaciness is where Blake’s Seven seeps in for me. Look at the model effects and starscapes of ‘The Invisible Enemy’ and compare this to the the first few shots of many a Vere Lorrimer episode. Throw in a little Michael Keating, pair him with Hanna from Space City, place them in the Camden Deep Tunnels and pretend it’s Ultraworld, et voila! Invite Tom Kelly, Rio Flanning, John Leeson, Scott Fredricks, Alan Lake, et al. Even Dudley Simpson’s music is at it’s most Blake’s 7 in this series. It is these brushstrokes that I, and many other fans are so familiar with. It’s the language of science fiction and fantasy at the BBC in the 1970’s. Taking established television language and production techniques and pushing it that little bit further, and going that extra mile. I enjoy the details, the hard-to-see-on-first-viewing intricacies. I’m happy to succumb to my ultra geek.
And, the ‘other’ season 15 is the story of how it got made at all. Another thing that this blog will no doubt tap into without me thinking about it too hard. The difference between ‘strike’ and ‘block’ filming.
Whilst I recognise the triumphs of Philip Hinchcliffe’s era, I love this season. In fact I have a real admiration for Graham Williams era as producer. Whilst I find his era far from perfect, to me it no more or no less perfect than any other era of Who. He brought real thought and consideration to his producership. A love of words and literature, of folklore and legend, and new, imaginative and brilliant ideas. I think he treated his audience with respect, and wanted the best for his show, no matter what he faced. And boy he faced it all. The tightening noose of institutional management, a severe decline in real term budget, strikes, perception of the tone of the show outside of the BBC, increasingly challenging cast, sometimes belligerent crew, and most significantly a case of, well, follow that. But he brought in new names, took the show in new directions, pushed the production of the show into unexplored territory (yes, that includes BBC Pebble Mill) fought for new technical practices, and when push comes to shove, locked himself, and others, into darkened rooms and sometimes for days on end, and came out with scripts which were full of energy and verve. And he gave greater roles to women, something Blake’s 7 did pretty well too…some of the time.
Graham Williams is a producer who got so much right, in a time where everything was stacked against him. Some have accused the Williams era of being ‘silly’. There is nothing ‘silly’ about season 15. It’s the best Doctor Who season.
Cue Gharman… ‘YOU ARE INSANE DAVROS’.