You don’t know me (probably.) But I do know Blake’s 7 in my own little way. It’s a show that I can only watch in its entirety over a short period of time. Like a space opera I suppose. After falling in and out of its clutches over the last twenty years or so, and with the 40th anniversary approaching, I thought that this 38 year old should type some thoughts about this show before my latest love-in with it withers away for another few years. That’s what I like about this drama, I return to it again and again as new.
So here’s the long (and not so short of it.) I’ve been a Doctor Who fan all my life… well since episode three of The Keeper of Traken – I remember the fauna. I was seriously into my stride as a devoted watcher, and enjoyed the thrills and spills of it’s 21st season with less critical eyes. I was bounced pillar to post from sea bases, not so quaint English villages, metal gantries on crashed space ships, and the grim, dank brickwork of Butlers Wharf in London only to have my Doctor taken away from me in a matte painted Dorset quarry, perhaps a nearby quarry to where Blake, Jenna and Avon where eyeing up some Moon Disks in the sun(s) of a matte painted Zondar.
My introduction to Blake’s 7 was a low key affair – a simple recommendation by a friend. I knew of the programme, and it was always inevitable that I would dip my toes into it. My vague memory of Traken’s horticulture is matched by an equally faint image of a red/brown planet surface whooshing past the camera and two long futuristic sounding notes – aka the title sequence to series 4. It meant that my parents watched it. Then it was a tantalising weekly image, nowadays I chuckle at how someone lined up the visuals of the title sequence to the theme from ‘The Good Life’ and how it synchs perfectly. How times change.
It was the compilation tapes that were my way in. For those who don’t know, (and I’m guessing most of you do) the first commercial releases of Blake were in the form of four VHS videos.
‘The Beginning’ – featuring bits of the first four stories.
‘Duel’ – where the fight with the federation is established,
‘Orac’ – which, funnily enough, is all about finding Orac.
‘Aftermath’ which documents some of the adventures in the later half of the series lifespan.
These compilations were enough to interest me further, and luckily I had come to party late, meaning that the BBC were well into releasing each unedited episode on VHS by the time my interest was increasing. So in 1992, I went for it. But which one? I went for the one that had just appeared on the shop shelf of my local Woolworths. This was the 4th season episodes ‘Power’ and ‘Traitor.’ Now dear reader, I didn’t have any concept of a ‘Ben Steed script’ or any consideration that Paul Darrow’s performance, whilst captivating, might be a little on the theatrical side. I simply put the cassette into the VCR and enjoyed a 50 minute drama that nipped along at a reasonable pace, made me laugh, and had a gravel pit that looked exactly like the gravel pit in the first series. The fact I was noticing these things, was indication that I was following this a little too closely.
From this, I bought a second hand copy of Tony Attwood’s programme guide. I was fascinated by the written descriptions of the episodes. It also introduced me to the word ‘triumvirate’ – something of which made me sound a lot cleverer than I actually am when going on tentative first dates with a girlfriend. She is now my wife. Thank you Governor Le Grand! But the descriptions weren’t spoilers to me, they were a glimpse of everything I was anticipating when I saved enough pocket money to buy another tape.
Then there were the VHS covers. Whilst they may not have always had the most accurate depictions of our heroes (I still remember buying Warlord/Blake in my local Woolworths in Dawlish, Devon and thinking ‘is that really Avon?’) they still had considerable dynamism in their layout. Also having two episodes per tape seemed to create a symbiotic relation between two episodes. I still can’t watch Moloch without thinking about Deathwatch, or Hostage without Countdown. It all fell into place, and I was hooked. A year or two later, I bought my last cassette – Volcano/Dawn of the Gods. The journey, first time around, was complete.