“I am now examining the clothing on the torso and upper section of the body.”
“A fashion designer can find inspiration by going to the shows at Paris, looking at all the collections, making notes and drawings and then coming home and working from that; a designer doing a period play can go and get books and research the period; but with science fiction, where is your source? Where do those ideas come from? You’re into the area of blobs of tar on barrels, or water flowing down a wall – it’s all suggestion.” Interview with Dee Robson, 1995. (2)
When I first started watching Blake’s 7, I was immediately struck by the distinctive costume design. As I watch it today, I’m ever more interested by the approaches, considerations and design characteristics brought to the show by all six of its talented costume designers. I’m also intrigued about the suggestions, as mentioned by Dee Robson’s fascinating quote at the top of this blog post.
Costuming is an intrinsic part of the series. Over the years, I have paid slightly less attention to the what was worn in Doctor Who. The nature of Blake’s 7 places clothing at the forefront. This is a series with strong characterisation, ego, power games, defiance, seduction, military maneuverings, conflict, and – thanks to the ‘special’ room we never get to see onboard the Liberator – a healthy dollop of good luck. Costume design is so much more than an expression of the characters, it is a vital storytelling device. Without it, we would be talking about a series that is not so vibrant, something of which Blake’s 7 really needs to be.
Then I started to think about what was happeneing in the run up to 1978? What were the fashion designers possibly thinking of when designing the future?
There are many websites that explore this, but in particular I am interested in the decade in the run up to Blake’s 7 going into production, and how two films stick out to me. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1969) and ‘Solaris’ (1972).
When I watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, I see a mix of futurism, space-race thinking, NASA realism, and carefully fitted outfits. Kubrick collaborated with Hardy Amies, former tailor to royalty. Futures past played a part in the design, with Amies being influenced by cinema of the previous 40 years, such as the Flash Gordon movies. He was also inspired by more contemporary trends, including a fascination with leather, something of which features heavily in Blake’s 7.
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ remains one of those films that I will only watch at the end of a day, in the dark, in that space between being awake and asleep – a vague, blurry moment in time that echoes the unfathomable happenings within the film itself. Yet its costuming feels like the most realistic element of the whole piece. For me, it comes from the same approach to some other elements of the film – the removal of style, in favour of the original, root ingredient or cause. For example, when Douglas Trumbull created the amazing ‘Stargate’ sequence, he and Kubrick were not interested in the stylish aesthetics of ‘special effects’ but instead went right back to the notion of what creates an image in the first place – light on celluloid. I think the same is true with the costuming, which removes any kind of B-movie, or stylised trappings in favour of a functional aesthetic. The result of this is that the film removes itself from the era that it was made.
When I see ‘space age’, I immediately think of the costumes used in ‘Killer’ – the sharp tailored quality of ‘Shadow’ and various other examples as seen below.
Then a few years later ‘Solaris’ is released.
This film is a complete contrast, as by the early 1970’s, the world was a very different place, with space age optimism shifting towards a more down to earth feel. Andrei Tarkovsky, who was not enamoured of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wanted the costumes in Solaris to be ‘timeless’.
In this film there is what looks like knitwear or garments that were produced by hand. There is a more humanistic feel as opposed the focus on mechanics and technology of production.
When I see the use of what appears to be the use of handcrafted textiles or something that feels ‘everyday’ I see an awful lot of the overall look of the first season of Blake’s 7, which is a touch medieval, riffing on the Robin Hood theme, and happy to use two Blake’s 7 mainstays – leather and suede. If Tarkovsky’s aim was to create something that would not date when viewed in the future, I think it is a good attempt, and the approach is perfectly valid. The look of season A is perhaps the least dated in the entire run.
Sometimes Blake’s 7 riffs on a variation of the Solaris theme, through the use of bold contemporary patterns. Again, it’s not ‘space age’ per se, but certainly it certainly catches the eye.
Nelli Fomina, the costume designer for Solaris noted Tarkovsky’s philosophy to costume. “He attached great importance to costume design and to their details in establishing the image of each character: for him costumes told the audience a good deal about the character and his or her emotional state.” (2)
And this is an element is important to Blake’s 7 – how the costuming communicates the character. Yet this isn’t something I’d not previously thought about in other shows. When I think of the companions in 1960’s/70’s Doctor Who and how they are dressed, the costumes often suggested some of the key elements of the character; Jamie’s kilt, Ian and Barbara’s more conservative attire, and Leela’s warrior skins, but it rarely communicated much about their mindset or personality traits. In fact, more often than not, it was about showing off contemporary fashion to broaden the interest from certain sections of the audience.
The Blake’s 7 approach to costuming is an interesting mix of the futuristic and the allegorical. The space age attire seen in the series isn’t a radical departure from depictions of the future that has been suggested on screen since the 1930’s. But many of these costumes do more than simply identify key character backgrounds, they also suggest the personality behind each character too, and significantly, provides clues to the universe and overall context in which the stories take place in.
As Nelli Fomina noted: “Through costumes the designer helps to express the nature of a character, to reflect the times and places in which the action unfolds. As the script evolves, so too must the costumes.” (2)
While these two films are what I naturally gravitate towards when thinking of Blake’s 7, perhaps it would be remiss of me to ignore The 1936 sci-fi movie ‘Things to Come’, written by H.G. Wells. The costume design on this draws upon a number of influences from ancient or classical time, namely Egyptian clothing. These references to the past is something I see in many science fiction dramas, including Blake’s 7.
There is one final element that stands out for me. This comes from the way Blake’s 7 was made. I’m talking about the production context behind how these designs are created – the world of television and theatre. Costume for theatre will always be affected to a degree by the viewpoint of the audience – the literal distance between performer and spectator. Television will have a similar challenge but also a raft of technical considerations alongside artistic ones.
And who better to illustrate this than June Hudson. Following her stint on Blake’s 7, Hudson returned to Doctor Who, a series that she had already cut her teeth on. As flamboyant and memorable as Hudson’s designs appear to be, something of which appears to polarise Blake’s 7 fandom, Hudson can be incredibly pragmatic and logical about the decisions she makes. In the essay ‘Dress and the fabric of the television series: the costume designer as author in Dr. Who’ Hudson explains that there is more to design than symbolism and representation. Sometimes it is simply about what looks right or necessary. Take the characters of Romana (good) and Lady Adrasta (evil) featured in ‘The Creature from the Pit (1979).
“In a sense, choices about the use of colour can often seem to make themselves when you’re designing costumes, but it certainly isn’t as simplistic as virgins in white and villainesses in black.”
“Black in particular has certain practical advantages for the designer; there is a great variety of fabrics with different texture available in black, and literally hundreds of slightly different shades.”
“Above all I like it because it gives a good outline – a strong silhouette is very important for science-fiction design. In the case Adastra, black and dark red seemed natural choice partly because they offset the metallic ornament which is incorporated into her costume.”
When choosing white for Romana, there wasn’t the intention to create any kind of symbolic contrast.
“…the main characters in Dr. Who always have to be easily distinguishable from aliens, but I didn’t need white to do that. I chose white, combined with pink and silver, simply because I wanted Lalla (Ward) to look beautiful and striking.” (3)
Hudson also noted colours she didn’t use, such as greens, due to the similarities with the jungle set, and the fact that it was a commonly used colour for C.S.O/Chromakey.
For all her bold designs, and her reputation in fan circles, Hudson’s pragmatic approach spills into Blake’s 7. In interviews with her I’m struck by how often she is thinking about the practicalities of filming on location, or the heat of the studio. With Blake’s bat wing design, she was aware about how Gareth Thomas would have to be comfortable under the hot lights, and how the sleeves were cool and airy, while giving him the ability to move. Yes, she was very sympathetic towards the cast and the challenges they faced.
In the DVD commentary for ‘Shadow’ David Maloney once described multi-camera studio technique as a bastard medium. The approaches to costume design in Blake’s 7 also appear to be multi-faceted – straddling the lines between creative identity, technical necessity, narrative demands and character impact. It balances influences old and new, glitz and glam, smart and shabby. Costume design is a key part of the DNA of Blake’s 7 and without it, the telling of the whole epic adventure would be diminished.
So what of the actual costumes in Blake’s 7, and the aesthetics brought to the series by its talented designers?
This is a series with tunics aplenty, with black for Federation guards and officers, robes for medieval communities, shiny clobber for the aliens and plenty of scavenger wear for all the shouty tribes.
Costumes are reused again and again – a perfect solution for the budget conscious designers and producers. Bringing old costumes out from stock must have been standard practice. In fact I remember June Hudson, in a very old interview with Doctor Who Magazine, mentioning how the robes used for the Argolins in ‘The Leisure Hive’ (1980) were reused at the end of the season for ‘Logopolis’ (1981). With that in mind I can only guess how much money the Helotrix battle scenes in ‘Traitor’ saved in order to balance the books.
So for this blog post, I have enlisted the help of my wife, Tif, who is far more of an expert on the craft of fashion design than I am. Just in cast some of her views send you into a frenzy of apoplectic rage, it is worth keeping in mind that Tif has only watched some Blake’s 7 before, and has probably taken in some of the minutiae through my endless watching of it. In short, she is one of those ‘not fans’ I’ve heard about on the grapevine, but she has a little bit of understanding of the series, and is happy to help me write this, until it becomes too much of a strain on the marriage!
The format is simple. I kick off talking about each designer, and then Tif comes in with far more objective viewpoints, without knowing anything about the production context of Blake’s 7, or television production generally – apart from the knowledge that money was really tight. I’ve added episode titles and characters on her behalf.
The importance of costuming as a key storytelling device starts with Lane’s outstanding contributions. When considering season A’s frugal budget, the sheer number of costumes is all the more remarkable. The Federation are presented consistently, with a tunic motif being the favour of the day, from those in law enforcement to the general population. Interestingly, Lane avoids PVC futuristic wear, in favour of something more modest. This gives me a sense that the citizens of Earth in particular are repressed, or through drug inducement, apathetic. With the suggestions of a totalitarian state, the signature costume is the Federation guard. Sometimes I stop looking at the things we see all the time, but the skull like guard helmet is perfect. It’s anonymous, dangerous and above all, black. The gas mask as focal point makes it the perfect representation of Terry Nation’s war-time leanings.
Once we get to know the characters I find it interesting to think about how they are portrayed visually. Blake retains a ‘solid’ look, Avon has touches of sophistication, and there is the emergence of glamorous patterns and fabrics for Jenna and Cally. But the outfits that I find most fascinating are the ones sported by Gan and Vila, which hint at an almost peasant look. From the custodians in ‘Time Squad’ to Avalon’s guerrillas, this is a theme that runs through this first season, particularly through the use of earthy colours, animal skins, traditional fabrics, embroidery, a hint of tribal patterns and laces. Yet somehow these costumes remain very stylish in their own way.
Lane is the only designer with a distinctive overall colour palette – full of greens and browns. Unlike some of the later designers, the bolder, vivid colours are kept at bay. Perhaps the standout in this regard is the first costume for Cally on Saurian Major. It stands out a mile, yet still retains enough of the ‘rough and ready’ demanded by this character in the short time she was actually a hard-nosed fighter.
While Lane’s designs are stylish, that is not what they seem to be trying to achieve. Functionality appears to the overall factor, as evidenced the outdoor garments that are worn by the Liberator crew when they beam down to a freezing industrial complex in London…I mean Centero.
But this is Blake’s 7, so glamour, style and sophistication is never far away. The crew of the Ortega have a very distinctive identity through the high collars. Servalan’s original outfit immediately sets the tone for her entire character story, and the black leather of Travis offers a genuine sense of danger. The triangular breast-plate is a neat, angular and ominous touch.
The Way Back
It’s very Robin Hood. Peasants. Utilitarian. Medieval times. There are differences in what different characters are wearing. The use of different cloths gives the impression of different classes. For example, much of the population appear to be wearing Tabards, which suggests a more utilitarian feel.
But Blake is important, and as a first class citizen, is wearing excess material – a more ornamental style of clothing. The tunic is Robin Hood. It suggests ‘more money for cloth.’ This was the same with Romans, Celts etc, where more money, and higher status resulted in better fitted, better quality fabric, which was often decorative. Blake reminds me of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. A bit of a swashbuckling pirate. His giant friend wears something that Gan would wear too.
Bran Foster – he has seen some stuff and been around the block, hence the range of patterns. His costume says “If you leave the dome, there is life outside there”. These clothes suggest elements from other cultures . He is trying to set himself apart as a leader by looking different. His costume also says “I’m not a drone.” He wears something that contrasts against the drones of the populace. His costume contains secrets and concealments – hidden pouches that could carry things that help defend himself. He has patchwork, he’s travelling super light.
The clothing of the Federation is very Calvinist – if you all look the same you can’t hide anything. You can’t act as an individual, so you have to be part of the whole. Different aspects of society is coded through uniform colours. It’s very ‘1984.’ The colour of justice is Burgundy. There’s green for medics (Dr.Havant) Police and security wear dark blue in ‘Space Fall.’ I guessed this colour scheme before I even knew they were police, so the designer knew her stuff. There is also Black of the presidential representatives (Bercol and Rontane.)
It’s very clever they did that.
I wonder if Margaret Attwood was watching Blake’s 7 while she was writing The Handmaids Tale in East Germany in the 1980’s. It’s a similar society, with a rebel, with classes in society, and an underclass. They even keep a part of town separate for decadence; enjoyment, gambling, and prostitution – just like Freedom City.
The Time Squad guardians
Did they have some left over costumes from ‘I Claudius’?
Great costume for her first appearance. Really weird. Clearly she’s not trying to blend in with her surroundings, so this is statement costume about the character. It is striking, because later I always think of Cally in something diaphanous. But this costume is a bit more apocalyptic, meant to be tough wearing. She moves into costumes made using Lamé, which was a cheaper, more mass-produced material. Lane was probably thinking about the budget.
Vila and Gan
They look very medieval. Vila in particular looks Nordic. Like a Finnish reindeer herder – part of the Sami tribe; muted colours, furs, leather He is also a bit ornate. Insecure Vila, who is a thief, is probably thinking “What makes me look bigger than I am as a person?”
He wants to imply that he is a dark person. So he sets himself apart from Blake. He looks sharper in contrast, making Blake look a bit sloppy at times. Avon is a tight, concealed person. He keeps everything inside. The clothing looks like he is protecting himself. It’s so tailored, so sharp. You couldn’t put Blake in that. Avon wears clothing that doesn’t look like it is made for running, but made for thinking.
She looks like she is wearing vintage East West Musical Instruments Company leather jackets. Decorative and bold, these are the kinds of jacket you just keep looking at.
Other times Jenna is a bit Agnetha from ABBA. There are long flowing gowns – she uses her ‘femininity’ in certain episodes doesn’t she?
Servalan and Travis
She is wearing a uniform of her own. She has been appointed to rule by a collective. Even the emperor of Rome had a dress code – you have to show you are stable and in control. It’s a surprise to see her in white because she looks like a bride, whereas everyone else in black. Travis looks like he’s from Star Wars. He looks like a biker. But Servalan is the kingmaker. She runs the army. She is Octavian in 33BC. Mind you, in Project Avalon, she is wearing something with very medieval trappings, I mean look at those sleeves.
Barbara Lane is trying to be economical overall. She might have taken one set of measurements for many characters, such as Blake, and used this to create an overall shape or silhouette. With the pattern created she can create variations on a theme, using different cloth.
There’s clearly a lot of effort being put in for costumes that make such a short appearance, such as the Ortega crew. Lane is feeling her way for colour palettes for characters, with muted tones, etc..
There are clear characteristics to the work of Jarvis, during his short run. Immediately I notice that his take on futuristic is about lesser amounts detail, and bolder ‘blocky’ touches. The triangular motif is a standout on many of his costumes, such as his design for Avon that debuted in ‘Bounty’, and Jenna’s red top that featured in ‘Orac’. But what is also noticeable is how he uses ‘stuck on’ details on top of basic garments, such as the gold strips on Ensor Jr, or the white strips on the crew of XK72. He’s big on visible linings too. This approach is easy to spot in his work for Doctor Who, recorded shortly after his foray into the world of Blake’s 7.
Avon’s ‘Bounty’ and ‘Orac’ costume.
It’s a bit bling and not very Avon. It’s too much. It makes him look like a pantomime villain. He looks like an after dinner mint. Not subtle.
Avon’s coat in ‘Orac’
W.T.F – why doesn’t this man like Avon? Why does he make him look at a massive bacofoil wrap?
Cally’s fur coat in Bounty’ and Jenna’s outfit in ‘Orac’.
That fur coat isn’t a very Cally coat. But Jenna’s red costume is nicely cut, and still very Abba.
Avalon’s Burgundy attire at the end of ‘Project Avalon’.
He likes V shaped designs. It seems to be the same basic pattern, one that would be easy to make. There is a lot of shiny Satin. We’re talking basic shapes with cheaper material. He’s thinking, “How am I going to class it up?” He does this by adding a shit load of trim, and lots of piping.
He likes his Gold doesn’t he. And his metallic look. It’s very 1970’s lounge.
If you are going to make a wardrobe sustainable, this is a good way to do it. Stick on the trim, with a long stitch, which can easily be taken off or remodelled for other costumes later on.
Look at the junior doctor in ‘Breakdown’ – his waistcoat clearly doesn’t fit him – the actor is too broad. A lot of his work doesn’t rely on fitting. They’re very boxy and efficient cuts. Not much has to be measured, and he doesn’t have to worry about sleeves.
You can see that this is the end of the season, so this is a good method to manage the budget. Lots of costumes look recycled, such as Tyce. He’s not subtle about using the same gold trim. A really ungenerous part of me wonders whether it is gold tape – good gold tape – but tape none the less.
What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Cally’s ‘Olive Oil’ outfit, the insects and assorted menagerie on Fosforon, ‘Oven Ready’ Avon, Servalan in ‘Pressure Point’ and Blake’s ‘bat wings’. Who else can turn the word ‘lobster’ and turn it into something that isn’t found at sea. With June Hudson, the series launched into full operatic mode, where character attributes and personalities are expressed boldly. But there is much else that might not capture the eye immediately. The velvet of the Terra Nostra and the Federation officials on Horizon are exceptionally sophisticated and precise. As for representing characters beautifully – Gan’s outfit in ‘Redemption’ wins the day, especially when you see it in full flow, immediately after Vila shouts “Don’t just stand there!” The more I think of it, Hudson’s work isn’t memorable due to the boldness of her designs, but more by the degree of contrast between them. A good example is to look at the approach to design between ‘Shadow’ and ‘Weapon’. It shows how versatile she is.
Still going with the Robin Hood style. However, there are more earthier and muted tones. There’s also lots of green leather. It’s very swashbuckly, and a bit Elizabethan at times, I mean look at those sleeves. You need a costume bigger than Gareth Thomas, especially when he is positioned next to the tight cuts worn by Paul Darrow. It creates contrast.
This is a very interesting costume development. It’s stopped him looking like an oaf, and more like a Venetian lord. It’s very RSC looking, very Shakespearian. What he is wearing looks like a Restoration era waistcoat. It really suits him. He is a broad man and Hudson is very sympathetic to the body shapes of the actors. These are not sloppy costumes at all. The ‘Weapon’ costume is also not too bad. There are still a lot of V shapes going on.
He’s wearing black leather, like an executioner or a character from the Renaissance era. It’s looks like a jerkin (a man’s short close-fitting jacket) or a black leather doublet (a tight-fitting jacket). I guess this material would have been used to help with protecting the clothing from the inevitable blood splattering.
The burgandy Lobster costume is quite fiddly to make. Does it come undone under the collar? It’s a really weird costume, but it suits him, although the colour doesn’t suit him. He needs to be in black. I’m a big fan of the belt.
In ‘Shadow’, he looks like he is lost at the space disco, when his date hasn’t turned up.
What’s going on with the camel coloured fabric? There’s those weird RSI wrist supports. It’s not as a cohesive a look. What he wears in ‘Shadow’ is pure Vila. Here’s is a man who is happy to stay on the ship. When Vila wears something casual rather than active, it implies indoor wear – it’s not quarry proof.
Cally and Jenna
I really like what Cally is wearing (the ‘Olive Oil’ outfit). It’s very Star Wars – cut really beautifully and fitted really nicely. In ‘Shadow’ she is wearing another very beautiful costume. It’s bit Biba in its style, with the panel in the middle. Hudson seems to have designed very sensitively for women in particular. It’s space, but there’s a hint of Margo Lebetter. Jenna is also wearing some beautiful attire. The cocktail frock is very lovely, it shows off her active silhouette, with big, bouncy hair
It appears that the women have to be impeccable, but the men don’t. Hudson is capturing the fact they have this endless wardrobe room on the Liberator. It’s clothing that says “Hmmmm, that will be fun today.” Therefore, Jenna and Cally’s look is less consistent than the mens.”
In ‘Weapon’ she looks Roman. Quite daring. Showing midriff. I’m loving the cape – it’s a bit James Bond. In ‘Pressure Point’ she looks a bit 1930’s Berlin Liza Minelli, in Cabaret.
There always seems to be space between her neck and the clothing, or things that create space around her. It suggests a private or closed off personality. It creates a sense of power.
I get the sense the Jacqueline Pearce would have been happy with the costumes – “show it all darling!”
Travis does look like he is in a uniform – a bit like what Avon would wear. But Hudson has moved away form the gimp look. He has a much leaner figure, and looks less like a biker. The top looks like he’s lived in it for a while, so whatever fabric she has used is effective.
There’s the mafia in velvet, and Ro and company look like they have been upholstered as people. They look like chairs. Looking at Carnell it appears that Hudson uses lots of capes. As for Coser – what is he wearing? He looks like a ming vase.
Did June Hudson get a brief? I can see some of these costumes being worn in the opera. Did she have a bit more money? You can see quality in the fabric and length. It’s expensive to get a fabric that drapes well. The way the cloth pools at the floor, suggests better quality fabric. Her influences are very eclectic. You can see Guinevere wearing her work in Camelot.
She is not a costume designer. She is a clothing designer. No artifice about her designs. It could look hilarious, but it looks amazing, due to the quality of the cut. You can see she is a true designer. She is not doing it by numbers. Every shape looks like it is tailored to each actor. She is taking risks.
Out of all the designers, I think Kidd’s work on Blake’s 7 is the most disciplined and sophisticated. It’s probably my favourite collection overall.
There is a strong emphasis on leather, as evidenced by the green costume worn by Cally in ‘Star One’ and the purple costumes that Jenna is seen in again and again. Jackets get prominence under Kidd, such as Avon’s grey number which features heavily in the later half of this series, and into season C too. There is a frequent mix of leather and fabric in her work, especially on the shoulders and down the chest. Everything is cut so meticulously too – look at both Servalan and Major Thania in Trial.
I think Kidd’s approach was perfect for this stage of the series, where the stakes are raised, and tension increases as the fall out from Gan’s death, and the increasing zeal of Blake reaches crisis point in the lead up to ‘Star One’. For this to work, the costumes shouldn’t be overtly flamboyant – ‘Gambit’ aside. There’s plenty of opportunity for that elsewhere.
She’s working with a lot of panelling. There appears to be a lot of leatherette. Did the BBC have shed loads of leather? This would have started to be popular in the 1970’s.
They’re all different costumes but similar. Same but different, with some alterations. Blake is wearing the same basic cut. It’s the same with Janna and Cally, and Avon is wearing a similar thing to Blake. You can see that it is cut from the same draughtswoman/pattern cutter.
Jenna’s arse looks amazing in it.
She’s not strayed too far from Hudson. It’s an archaic cut. It’s like someone has got a Vogue book from the library and is trying out every cut possible. Jacqueline Pearce has got an amazing face and haircut. The short hair complements the clothing. She looks fantastic in everything. She can match a tailored cut, partially with the short hair. It really works from a characters point of view.
Mind you, in Trial she is wearing something very 1940’s. That skirt is a good 4-5 inches too long to make her look good. If it had been full length it would have been even sexier. In ‘Star One’ we see Servalan’s bridal range. Was it an odd decision to put her in pearls?
Rontane, Bercol and the Federation
She loves her panelling with a zip. I can understand that. Let’s say John Bryans comes in for a costume fitting, it’s a clever idea to create the basic cut, then fiddle about with the panel to make it fit once the costume fitting has taken place. This could save time – I’m guessing they were working fast on this series. The panel can also be ripped out in order to recycle the costume later – I presume with a tight budget this would have need to happen?
She’s a bit more Grace Jones. Kidd is using a real panelled costume or piecework. It’s an old-fashioned way of creating clothing, especially where cloth was expensive. Panelling is a really common way to make the most of the fabric you’ve got. So there’s no wastage in the way you would cut the fabric. There would be no space between the paper pinned pattern pieces as you lay them out. Royal tailors use this technique when using expensive fabric.
She’s using Kimono robes for Le Grand and her followers. And Gambit, oh yes I remember this episode well – nuts! She probably raided the costume department.
Everyone has a way they like to sew. You betray your own character in the way you sew. She’s definitely not June Hudson. Kidd’s work is competent – highly technical outfits used in space. She’s clearly a meticulous person. You can’t use panelling, making it fit people without it looking crap unless you can really sew. She’s very technical, and a bit less adventurous. A different cup of tea. Hudson is an artist, clothes designing work that people moved in. Kidd’s work looks harder to wear.
Dee Robson’s time on the show comes at a curious period for Blake’s 7, as the series reformats itself, and sometimes feels a bit hesitant about which direction it is actually going in. One thing is for sure, there is more of an emphasis on individual expression as the battle between the Liberator and the Federation becomes less pronounced.
I would describe Robson’s contributions as an eclectic mix, in keeping with the storylines she worked on. Depictions of the future range from skin-tight leotards on Chenga, shiny/reflective material for Lauren in ‘Aftermath’ and a whole range of styles and colours for the Liberator crew. There’s even a return to classical or ‘olde’ wear, such as some of the outfits worn by Tarrant.
Robson’s work is often bold, but it never goes over the top. I’m also drawn to her work when dressing groups of people, such as the whites of Obsidian, the greys of Auron and some of the triangular motifs worn by the regulars in ‘City at the Edge of the World’ and ‘Children of Auron’.
Robson’s bold mix can also be seen in the TV series of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ in 1981, costumes of which stick in the mind for all the right reasons.
Lauren in ‘Aftermath’
I’m loving this. I’d wear that outfit now. Oddly, it is very chic. Like Givenchy dressed Audrey Hepburn. It’s neat and detailed in a very French way. It wouldn’t look out of place on the high street today.
I don’t like Dayna’s asymmetrical jump suit. It’s clearly designed for someone who is very gifted with a bow and arrow. Sadly I think it conforms to a racial stereotype of the time. Aside from this it doesn’t show off Josette Simon to her best.
The Sarran warriors.
These look like leftovers from Attila the Hun. These costumes are clever. Look at those spray painted wellies. There is what looks like a boiler suit all scrubbed up. And the stiff tarpaulin in layers with a belt. Very effective en mass, and hugely economical when you scratch the surface.
I still think putting Avon in black is the best thing to do. Putting him in Sherwood Forest green makes him look like Blake. (At this point Tim rubs his chin knowingly, mulling over the battle Paul Darrow was having to ensure that he didn’t become like Blake at this point.) Avon looks like the man on the cover of ‘Machiavelli’s prince.’ Having him in black goes with his scheming and strategic brain. But green is the wrong colour for Avon. Tarrant looks like he is the new Blake, so we are going to give him Blake’s old wardrobe.
It looks like he is wearing an obi or something used in martial arts. I think it suits Vila, as he looks strange when he is off the ship. He likes to be safe onboard, in the warm. In ‘Children of Auron’ he is wearing what looks like a traditional Russian cut shirt (Kosovorotka).
In ‘Volcano’, I’m loving what Dayna is wearing. Who would think to put a transparent PCV doubloon with a pink jumpsuit. I think you could buy this in TopShop today. Very funky. Oh yes, that is brilliant. Theres is some sort of ruching going on with her leg, which is really quite fascinating. What she wears in ‘Dawn of the Gods’ – that’s brilliant too. That V neck cut for women is a variation of a boatneck. I have a sewing pattern just the same. Once again, this feels like thing that could have been on the high street at the time.
Dayna is seen in so many dresses. She’s active and independent, an equal with the boys, in a way that Cally and Jenna didn’t appear to be.
There seems to be some budget saving too. Vila seems to be borrowing similar designs to Tarrant’s shirt in ‘Volcano’ and ‘Children of Auron’. Variations on the same design.
She is wearing an odd top in ‘Volcano’. We’re still not quite there with her character yet. This is very militaristic, with epaulets. It’s a military style cut, but in feminine fabrics.
In ‘Children of Auron’ she wears black. I do remember this episode and the psychic miscarriage. The trouble with black, is that you lose her in the background, also due to her jet black hair.
As for the Obsidians in ‘Volcano’, it would be cheap to make this. You just put the stiff fabric over the main costume, then sew channels into it in order to determine the shape of it.
More contemporary influences seem to be taking place in this era. Robson has got a really contemporary eye. There is nothing too uniform. She’s clearly a creative person. Her designs make the women look really powerful – perhaps more so than the men.
‘Rocky Knickers’ may offer some of the most flamboyant costumes in Blake’s 7, but in many ways he is simply following what came before him. There’s a pleasing mix of styles in season C, which follows on naturally from Dee Robson’s approach earlier in the run.
But there are additional touches that really stand out. For example the amount of studs worn by Avon increases in season C, as does the volume of black leather, defining his season D look. Servalan’s appearance continues to become ever more flamboyant (which apparently caused some conflict between star and costume designer.) Everything seems a bit more sparkly and shiny.
But it is that final season that is the most interesting. Faced with a small budget, which equates to less costumes for the regulars, Rocker opts for more utilitarian approach, where survival is the main aim. Vila’s lazy lounge wear has been replaced with a more ‘mechanic’ look. There are less patterns and flowing robes, and there is an increase of bold sections and additions, something that is not to dissimilar to the approach used by Rupert Jarvis.
Despite the reduction of patterns, when I look through the entirety of season D’s costumes, I see a kind of ‘greatest hits’ package of all the characteristics of Blake’s 7’s costume design – the ‘V’ on the chest, the leather, the bold designs, the tunics, the flowing robes, and the tribal wear. Sure, Servalan is wearing feathers, but all in all, Rocker’s work is actually quite controlled, allowing him to go full pelt on his next big gig, the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest!
‘Sarchophagus’ and ‘Death-Watch’ are fantastic costumes. These are the ones that spring to mind of when I think of Avon. I think this is where the Machiavelli Prince image comes from. You have the audacity of the shoulder pads. The fact that he can pull it off, and you can still take him seriously, is quite something considering those pads. It’s very Medici in renaissance Italy.
I don’t like the brown costume of ‘Ultraworld’. Again Avon needs to wear black.
In ‘Terminal’, he’s the space cowboy with the studded gloves. It’s a great costume in many ways, but it’s also too much. Avon doesn’t need that many studs. It looks a bit Johnny Cash. What is under the jacket looks incredibly sweaty to wear. That’s not breathable fabric.
There are some things that almost look shop bought. Vila’s velour tracksuit from ‘Sarcophagus’ and his outfit from ‘Ultraworld’ are examples. In ‘Terminal’ he is wearing something that also has Russian influences. A bit Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago.
Dayna is looking hot. Gold and blue looks fantastic together. Cally in ‘Death-Watch’ is wearing a very fitted outfit – reminiscent of her first story as far as colour is concerned. I like the tweed of Sula. I hope they lined that inside, quite itchy otherwise. The guards in ‘Terminal’ look like Christmas tree hangings.
In ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ she is still wearing what looks like cheap bridalwear. ‘Rumours of Death’ is better, much better, but still not quite there. ‘Death Watch’ is an improvement again. ‘Terminal’ is a very good costume. Most importantly a lot of the costumes she wears look like she could not run away from anything. These are statement costumes. She never needs to look practical, as she doesn’t need to run away from anything ever. Look how tightly cut the Kairos costume is – there ain’t going to be no running going on in that one.
And on to Season D…
This is space safari, a more cargo look. It’s a shame they moved away from his previous image, as the clothes suited his character and physique. These costumes are a pale imitation – literally. It makes him look uncomfortable. Even the sleeves don’t fall right. A man of inaction has been put in a suit of action.
Looking at Dorian – did the last chap (Rupert Jarvis) who liked gold tape leave some behind? Dayna is looking like a race car driver. The female characters are nicely fitted. Some of these costumes are bordering on tasteful. Justin looks like Paul Smith or Lambretta could claim for a copyright infringement. Muller looks like a schoolmaster, Keiller looks like a ringmaster, and there is poor Linda Bellingham, dressed like a tunnocks tea cake wrapper.
It looks like pantomime at this point. There a lot of cliché going on.
What can you say about ostrich feathers? She is wearing trousers. She is a bit more on the run. This is very Yves Saint Laurent ostrich feather collar – big in the 1970’s. In ‘Assassin’ she wears a very sexy cocktail dress.
Servalan looks fabulous whatever you put her in. It’s almost too easy to make her look good, but many designers are not thinking about how to make her look original. I think June Hudson set the bar almost too high for Servalan. This is a character who is always willing to push the boundaries, but I think the subsequent designers don’t quite reach those boundaries.
He’s grown into an Oliver Read pirate. Rugged, and living on the run. The clothing in the final episode implies that he’s wearing the same outfit. The main motivation of his character – freedom – is still there. He’s been on a journey, but essentially his core character is the same, he’s wearing broadly the same thing in earlier seasons.
Looking at this final series overall, these clothes are for people who don’t have a home anymore. This costume designer has put something in the costumes that wasn’t there before – a proliferation of pockets. This season is the season of the pocket. We’re talking about practicality. A life on the run. They have lost their cosy base, and endless wardrobe room.
But it feels like a rush job, for a series that wasn’t supposed to be.
I can see the volume produced on a such a small budget. I really respect that. Rocker did some interesting things with lines and stripes and there are some very good examples, especially in the third series. But there is a tired and laboured feel by the last series. I see the same basic costume on the same character, with alterations to differentiate them. But perhaps that is my eye seeing what I see, without the full context. The language of costumes has failed here – especially Servalan.
So there we have it. Our marriage is still intact. And new crockery has been purchased to replace all the smashed pieces. Blake’s 7 brings out heated debate!
I’ll leave the last word to June Hudson, who once said “The biggest risk you can take is playing it dull and safe” – in terms of Blake’s 7 that is a shrewd maxim indeed. For those who want to dig much deeper in the costumes featured in Blake’s 7, I can recommend this ever-growing archive of science-fiction attire. It’s really great.
We open with an atmospheric model shot of the Liberator, accompanied by some shrill metallic tones, similar to those we’ll hear in ‘Countdown’. The music is a bit more delicate than the usual bombast, which I must confess to enjoying. In fact, this seems of be a characteristic of many Vere Lorrimer episodes – twinkly, starry, spacey sounds.
On the teleport bay, Cally gets to continue a tradition invented by Avon, as she teleports him and Vila down before they expect it. I’m very much enjoying the look she gives as she does so. This was recorded early in the series run. Compare her reactions to episodes such as Hostage or Countdown, where she is starting to look a little bored, fixed in the same position behind the teleport control.
We are treated to a someone under the coordinate thingy, pointing a torch through the green tinted perspex. Could it be the Assistant Floor Manager, or a member of the effects team? Perhaps it is David Jackson in some Hitchcockian joke, considering he was still one of the gang at the time this was recorded.
On film, Avon and Vila make reference to the dome not being “like home“. It’s these little neat continuity touches that make Blake’s 7 so good.
The dome itself is one of those really lovely matt paintings. More on this another time…
In the studio, while David Jackson is putting his feet up at home, Blake, Jenna and Cally monitor an ancient vessel drifting in space. Jenna points out “the spectro says it’s ferrous”. Ooo, someone knows their latin. Must be a clever dick writing this one.
Blake identifies the Wanderer class ship as being up to 700 years old. It’s rare to get a sense of timescale in Blake’s 7 dialogue, so it’s fun to imagine a time frame from the first deep space vessels, the dawn of the Federation as an entity, to where they are now. Growing up with Doctor Who, the time frame of things never felt that important – there was all of time and space to play with. In Blake’s 7, where the events happen in a concentrated time, it always felt more important to get a sense of how far in the future it was, and how the Federation came to be. The overall answer remains frustratingly vague.
Oh look there’s another big word – infraluminal. I’ve never come across that word during my time at that beacon of British education – Dawlish Comprehensive School. A massive gap in the curriculum I think. Actually I googled the word, and Blake’s 7 came first. So I’m still not 100% sure it’s a thing!
Cally senses something malignant onboard the ship. This time I’m familiar with the word, but I’m not sure it feels like it belongs in Blake’s 7 script.
As an aside, there’s a certain type of music that accompanies moments where Cally senses something, or is taken over by a mysterious force. It’s usually a twinkly dreamlike score, full of phased sounds. But this time it is something slightly different – like a Bernard Herman score.
We’re back to a familiar haunt near Bristol.
Speaking of the music, I’ve always enjoyed the moment where Avon and Villa poke their heads over the surface of Fosforon, with a little two-note motif by Dudley Simpson. Perhaps there is a suggestion that these two characters are capable of mischief?
Inside Q-base, we catch a quick glimpse of Bobby James from ‘Powerplay’ (the one who didn’t get a credit for saying a line of dialogue), and then Tynus with his insects. But the most significant thing about these first shots of the Federation base is simple – we can hear the creak of the leather costumes straightaway.
There’s such selfless devotion displayed by Tynus, in that he provides us with a character breakdown of Dr. Bellfriar before we’ve met him.
Avon and Vila run across open ground within the base. For the exciting reveal of where it is they actually run, feel free to refer to the early part of my ‘Mission to Destiny’ post. It’s a few seconds of your life you’ll never get back.
So how do you dress a space age lift, shot on location within a nuclear power complex. Easy. You stick some grey stripes on the wall.
Blake wants to ‘tap’ information. Excellent! A word I understand, but Orac doesn’t. Who needs super computers.
Avon and Tynus are reunited. But my mind is elsewhere – namely the black chairs in the rear of the office – are they the same ones the Vardan’s sat in when they met the Doctor in ‘The Invasion of Time’. I later took a look, and discovered that it was not, although they will pop up again in ‘Trial’.
And then there’s this red chair in the private quarters. I’ve searched and searched and can only conclude that it is a BBC prop. It’s amazing.
Avon gets a customary one liner over Vila.
VILA: “Yes, I always knew you had a friend. I used to say to people “I bet Avon’s got a friend, somewhere in the galaxy“.
AVON: “And you were right. That must be a novel experience for you.”
I can see Boucher’s hand in Holmes’s script. Together they were probably a lethal combination.
Tynus is left-handed. And so am I. Just thought you might want to know that.
I’d not stopped to notice how readily Avon is risking life and limb to get hold of the T.P. Mckenna crystal. Sure, there will be the argument that he will benefit from intercepting Federation communications, but it is nice not to have to witness the frequent confrontations with Blake about it. Perhaps there needs to be a scene later on in the story to explain why Avon is readily doing this. I hope Holmes has thought of doing that.
A little bit about the sound design; when we cut to shots of people walking along the corridors, there is a hint of reverb, making the base feel bigger than it is. It’s a little touch, but when you’re building worlds on the budget Blake’s 7 can raise, these little touches are crucial.
We meet Dr. Bellfriar and Gambrill. And the leather is still squeaking and creaking away merrily.
As I listen to Bellfriar, I’m immediately thinking that this is a real pro delivering the lines. Paul Daneman has a talent for expressing calm and sophistication, by making sure we hear every exhale he makes, and pretty much mumbling the lines. Never giving anything more than 50% effort is the key here.
Another word is thrown into the mix – Exomorph. Again I googled it, and it would appear to be a distinctly sci-fi term.
There are clever little touches taking place. We get lots of technical bafflegab but we experience this through Vila, who sits in the amazing red chair looking all rather bored with it. It’s distinctly meta, and I’m liking it a lot. It’s like the writer knows the audience all too well.
Anther word is thrown in. Actually it’s two words – pickle barrel. I suppose only Gareth Thomas could utter that term. I mean, can you imagine Paul Darrow uttering it?
There’s a little marital spat between Blake and Jenna, and anther knowing nod to the audience. In this case a quick glance to the camera from Sally Knyvette at the end of the scene. Cuh, Men!
Kraftwerk makes a brief appearance, as does the London prison ship docking on Cygnus Alpha.
I love how Blake just blusters his way in, and gets to see whoever is in charge. Just like a certain time lord.
Equally, I love the fact that when Blake gets all self-important and says the immortal line “You may have heard of me, my name is Blake” he gets an indifferent response from both Bellfriar and Gambrill. Whether they know of him or not, I enjoyed the dry wit.
In the A-line room, Blake’s 7 suddenly looks like it belongs in the 1960’s. There’s those desks that seem to have been around for years, those Microfiche Readers you used to see in libraries and ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ (1979), gleaming metal everywhere, plus the costuming and big goggles look like some kind of hi-tech future from shows of old.
Meanwhile in the lab, that bloke who directed the Cybermen back in Patrick Troughton times, very slowly inspects the cadaver, and prepares for an autopsy. I’d like to say it’s padding, but as Dr. Bellfriar later notes, it’s just the way they work.
I love the rather corny hum that Dr Wiler elicits when he looks at the corpses feet.
Once again there is a satisfying reverb on the soundtrack, resulting in a cavernous sounding environment.
And now in accordance with the law, I walk right up towards the monitor to check to see what I can see from where I was already situated.
And we also establish that Wiler is completely deaf, as the monitor VERY LOUDLY indicates that there is life.
Actually, it is one of the more sinister Blake’s 7 moments, as the alien kills Wiler – passive, emotionless, barely registering life.
And then it is done. Wiler and the alien are done for, and with other staff bursting into the room to assist, the plague can now go viral.
There’s a wonderful scene between Avon and Vila. Not only does it neatly explain the risk that Avon will have to go through, but it also offers a kind of time out – an opportunity to take stock of both characters and their relationship to Blake and his cause. It is important that Vila gets the final pay off, as it means I will always be convinced of the moments of intelligence he displays in the future, as well as recognising how far he can fall, when he is idiotic.
The words cervical vertebrae are uttered. I feel like I’m in an episode of Quincy M.E.
Gambrill returns to Bellfriar’s office. This must have been the point where Bellfriar is infected himself. Given the proximity of Blake at this point, I would say that our beloved hero is leading a very charmed life.
Dr. Bax confirms the bad news that the infection is spreading. Oh dear, he’s touched his brow. He’s a goner.
Another word to look up – gnotobiotic. A gnotobiotic animal is a one in which only certain known strains of bacteria and other microorganisms are present. Technically, the term also includes germ-free animals, as the status of their microbial communities is also known. You learn something new everyday. (4)
The bang is a good one, and June Hudson lets rip with some fascinating fire fighting costumes.
Tynus asks Vila to destroy the evidence, allowing him to trip over what the head of security has planned for them both. Avon’s screwing up paper moment is very satisfying.
Blake is playing the know-all as he suggests ways to preventing the infection from spreading. He also gets to show off more Earth history. What a swot.
In fact I feel I’m learning so much about everything to do with science, history and oblique words and references. Take Lord Jeffery Ashley. Known as Lord Amherst, his legacy is being reassessed to this very day. Canada, which is home to many of the places he colonised is considering removing his name from streets and places. And then there is Sixty-One Cygnii – I was oddly pleased that it really is a place. I wrongly assumed Robert Holmes has just made it up. (5)
The portrayal of Blake is different to usual, but one thing is constant – the smugness when he gets to say “On board the Liberator I have the most advanced computer ever designed.”
Uh oh – Gambrill is forgetting things, like how to walk. His death scene is pretty gruesome really.
Avon hits on destroying the converter completely, while Blake provides Bellfriar with the means to control the plague. At this point with five minutes to go, I’m reminded that Jenna was in this episode once upon a time, and really early on, before that, Cally made a token appearance.
The plots are starting to reach their conclusion.
It’s time for a showdown. But there can only be one winner. Bad-ass attitude will always get you places in this universe.
But it’s all too late for anybody on Q-base, and Bellfriar. Once again we have a death scene that mirrors the subtlety of the characters themselves. No screaming, or shouting. Just a groan, a lean back in the chair, and gone.
But as has been the case in this episode, Blake’s desire to get involved or find out more costs Bellfriar the time to actually read out the results and save lives. Sometimes, just sometimes, someone just needs to say “Blake, could you just shut up for a second“.
We’re in the dying seconds of this episode, but there are still things to notice. The fabulous swerve of the camera as Blake and Avon swap marks on the teleport bay, and an unused, and frankly beautiful sweeping shot of the Liberator (with the London prison ship in the foreground) from ‘Space Fall’.
I really like Killer. I always have done. The first thing I’m drawn to is the quality of the acting. Ronald Lacey and Paul Danemen in particular play the lead roles very well. Lacey portrays Tynus as a man slightly resigned, but capable to protecting himself quietly. The same understated approach is used by Daneman, who portrays Bellfriar as a calm, unconfrontational scientist, but one who can make difficult decisions – check out the gentle anguish when he gives the order for the guards to shoot if necessary, in order to prevent the spread of plague.
Yet it is an odd episode. Blake is playing pure Sherlock, or even the Doctor here, offering a know it all attitude that might echo his confidence and determination, but actually feels like a departure to the overall character profile. I do enjoy this version – it gives me a chance to sneer at him being a clever dick. But equally I’m very happy that it is a one-off.
A one-off is how I would describe this episode. It is full of obscure details, and the occasional colonial or historical reference that seems to me to be characteristic of a Holmes script. But somehow it doesn’t feel like it belongs in Blake’s 7. I think this style works in Doctor Who, where the context is ‘an interest in absolutely everything’, but in the antagonistic, aggressive universe of Blake it comes across as a bit twee. But once again, I didn’t mind it, as it doesn’t become a habit of the series.
When I consider all these ingredients, my conclusion that I really do enjoy this episode a lot – in fact it might be right up there in my affections – but it is the episode where the line between Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 is somewhat blurred.
Paul Daneman and Ronald Lacey enjoyed long careers on stage and screen. I’m still amazed how unrecognisable Lacey is as the Bishop of Bath and Wells in Black-adder II. Colin Farrell has a whopping list of credits, from the 1960’s onwards, as did Colin Higgins, who also briefly donned the rebel alliance gear in Star Wars.
Morris Barry directed Cybermen in the 1960’s but also popped up in Doctor Who at a similar time to ‘Killer’. Michael Gaunt has already been mentioned in ‘Sand’.
Tony O’Leary who played the corpse that was Wardin, has popped up as a supporting artist, and around the time of ‘Killer’ was also escorting Sting into a police van in ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979). He also pops up again in several other Blake’s 7 episodes, notably on the receiving end of Dayna’s gaudy but effective bomb.
Another little link can be made in the career of Ray Chaney, who played one of the technicians who attempts to rescue Dr. Wiler. Later he will play St. Francis of Assisi in the Red Dwarf episode ‘Meltdown’.
The ‘incredible’ Sally Hulke offers us another distinctive world, which is as memorable as the home of the Alta’s in ‘Redemption’. On paper they are very simple designs, but they allow the drama to unfold nicely, and actors to have fun hitting their marks.
There’s a chair featured in a photo Making Blake’s 7 dug up from the archives, but I couldn’t easily identify on screen. It is the Vicario chair was designed in 1972 by Vico Magistretti for Artemide.
There are two fabulous space age lamps – one can be glimpsed when Wiler examines Wardin, and another one seen at the back of Tynus’s quarters.
Both can also be seen in Doctor Who ‘The Invasion of Time’ (1978) – which was recorded earlier in the year.
Let’s start with the “Pileo” Floor Lamp by Gae Aulenti for Artemide. This lamp is circa 1972. The shade pivots like a helmet in order to direct the light. Somehow the Blake’s 7 crew were able to customise one in order to turn it into a water fountain.
The curved lamp is ‘Lampione’ (streetlamp) by Fabio Lenci for Guzzini, Italy 1968. It was designed for outdoor as well as indoor use. It’s a beauty.
As mentioned earlier, this is a sparser, slightly shrill score by Dudley Simpson, but very effective.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER?
For history buffs and fans of Susie Dent.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The reaction from Dr Bellfriar and Gambrill to Blake’s certainty that they will have heard of him.
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Whatever I choose, it’ll be completely nitpicky. So I’m going for Tak’s weird smile in response to the line “I could never understand why a scientist of his eminence should choose to bury himself here.”
VERDICT IN TEN WORDS EXACTLY
The closest to the Doctor / Blake gathering we’ll ever get.