When I watch Blake’s 7, as with any telefantasy of the era, I’m not only drawn to the episode content, but to the look and feel of the visual material – the hues, the tone, the style and trappings of the era.
Simply because I wanted to, I decided to attempt to capture the colour palettes used in this space adventure. It’s something I have always seen as a intrinsic part of the experience of watching Blake’s 7, and I wanted to take it apart, colour by colour.
Taking inspiration from a number of websites that take apart cinematic frames from a variety of films of different eras, I decided to try to capture each episodes palette, in the hope of finding… well whatever this particular fan likes to look for. I’ll work that out at the end.
I took 4-5 images from each episode. The frames are chosen from different parts of the episode to give an overall feel. I wanted to try to capture the key moments, from the range of set designs and costumes, to the use of video and film, studio lighting or weather conditions.
The resulting colour combinations hopefully breakdown this visual element of Blake’s 7 – not frame by frame, but episode by episode. I’ve used the same ‘Pantone’ colour chart display, as used by other sites. But somehow it’s feels right, like the mosaic effect used for Blake’s face in the first title sequence.
Is it an accurate process? Well that would depend on your definition of accuracy. But there is thought behind it, and heck, who else is going to spend an hour here and an hour there picking apart what Blake’s 7 looks like.
Oh yes, us! Me! The joys of fandom!
Looking at the results, series A seems to be the most muted in it’s use of colour. This first series is certainly gritty, and perhaps the low ‘Softly Softly’ budget meant a more down to Earth feel than hi-tech futurism. Here we see lots of greys, and autumnal earthy tones – a mainstay of all 4 series. There would appear to be some standouts – the surface of Surian Major from ‘Time Squad’, filmed using a red filter is noticeable here, as is some of the set design from ‘The Web’ and ‘Duel’. Occasional moments using coloured lighting, such as the beginning of ‘Mission to Destiny’ break through the bleakness of corridors, and gravel pits. Also a special mention for ‘Cygnus Alpha’, which uses it’s night filming allocation to create a unique nocturnal scheme of its own. Whilst I’ve used the words ‘dull’, ‘muted, and ‘bleak’ – the first series is anything but. Sometimes less is more – and this series is perhaps Blake’s 7’s more disciplined.
Series B is a show gaining in confidence, enjoying slicker production values with a more reasonable budget. Certainly on first viewing, everything seems more glossy, with a more vibrant use of colour, more decorative and textured set design, and more operatic costuming. Take the first couple of episodes recorded in this series – ‘Redemption’ and ‘Killer’ which both break free of the muted tones seen in series A, using vibrant pale shades or bold splashes of colour within its set design.
Each episode appears to have a more distinctive palette – the episodes directed by Jonathan Wright-Miller are notable examples – ‘Shadow’ enjoys cream and red, whilst ‘Horizon’ used darker purples and greens. By the time of ‘Countdown’ and ‘Gambit’ the series designers are clearly confident in using colour in a purposeful way. Location filming is also increased, albeit still centered around quarries, meadows and power stations. So while Betchworth quarry remains a bleak, desolate playground, the misty blue-hued filming gives ‘Hostage’ a distinctive element.
By the time of series C, Blake’s 7 is at its most confident, with all the designers across all the departments confident with what can be delivered within the budget, and familiar with the scheduling of the show. The location filming in the north of England is a key example of this, as the show embarks on a film shoot far, far away from it’s usual Londoncentric trappings. So the greys of gravel pits are substituted with concrete structures and brutalist architecture. The colour palette of ‘Aftermath’ is a signpost for what is to come, with more adventurous location footage, and carefully lit studio interiors. Even the interiors shot on location are distinctive, take the greens and yellows of ‘Children of Auron.’ Meanwhile other episodes contain a distinctive palette, such as the yellows and golds of ‘Volcano’, and the ‘spacey’ darkness of ‘Ultraworld.’ By the time we reach the end of the series, set designers, and lighting directors are working collaboratively to create some really distinctive atmospheres. The corridors on ‘Terminal’ are a case in point. This series of Blake’s 7 is the boldest and contains the most vibrant use of colour.
Series D is a back to basics approach – like a series that is turning full circle. The greys and autumnal colours return to the fore, with large swathes of action taking place on steely grey Scorpio, or the beige confines of Xenon Base. This post Liberator age is about our heroes simply surviving, and the lack of decoration on the studio sets, and more simplistic renderings are testimony to this. Vivid colour is a less frequent occurrence – take the garish interiors of the Space Princess, or the lurid interiors featured at the end of ‘Games’ – all interesting in their own right, but not conforming to the overall tone of the series. Where splashes of colour feature in the results from each episode, this would appear to be down to costuming – take the reds worn by Keiller or Justin. But when I think of series D, I’m drawn to the palettes of ‘Power’ or ‘Headhunter’ – all about the whole, and less about the individual episode within.
So what does Blake’s 7 draw upon for it’s overall palette? In some ways that can be summed up by the look of the Liberator flight deck, Xenon Base and Servalan’s office in Space Command Headquarters. This is where the darks meet the lights. Like much of it’s fellow dramas it is a show of muted colour rather than slick space age gleam. A show of pastel hues rather than an exercise in vibrancy. But there is colour to be found, and within the overall scheme there are amalgamations of all the oranges, yellows, pinks and reds, alongside a range of military greens. But when the final results were revealed it was the distinctive turquoise that stood out like a sore thumb. But it absolutely should be there, as when blues feature in the show, from where Dorian’s creature lurks, to the mists on Exbar, not to mention the blue sky on Sarran, it really sticks out. And perhaps that’s the structure of Blake’s 7 in a nutshell – a solid canvas on which events and incidents take place, and when they do, they are memorable.
I’m off to have a rest now.