So what has it been like to watch Blake’s 7 this time around?
About two years ago when I started this marathon, it was mainly a desire to finally share all the things that I wanted to say about this brilliant series, after so many decades lurking in the shadows.
But what I hadn’t bargained for was quite how much more there was to notice and ramble on about, when putting these episodes under the microscope.
Firstly, lets deal with the actual writing of this waffle. For the endless thousands of words I have written, you will have no doubt noticed there are many misspellings and grammatical issues. This is partly down to my inability to be concise, the fact that I write as I speak, through auto and manual spell checks, and the fact that I’ve generally gone blind to what I have written. So I would just like to say a word of thanks to some kind folk from the Horizon forum, particularly Joe Dredd and winnie-l who have kept one eye on where I stick an apostrophe – that does matter to me.
But doing this blog has been great because it’s taught me to stop worrying about how I write. For one blog I got my wife (who is far more educated than I am) to proof-read it. Never again. The marriage cannot take the strain. So I can now see the value of just writing however I want. In fact, I’m so f*****g radical that I spell Professor Stahlman from ‘Inferno’ with three n’s. Eat that, Olaf!
I discovered the ghosts of past figures from the history of the show. For example, I developed a real appreciation for Vere Lorrimer. At first I saw him as a reliable BBC staff director, who wanted a change from cop dramas, and who had a enthusiastic crack at the episodes he was responsible for. But then I delved deeper. On the DVD release, I enjoyed the clip of him narrating the raw film footage for Gareth Thomas as he discovers that all is not well in Sub Control 4 in ‘Redemption’. “Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle.”
I enjoyed hearing stories of his eccentric persona, particularly from Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette, who noted his inability to get the names of their characters right, and their own names too. And this detail loomed throughout the entirety of this blog series, as my spell checker automatically substituted ‘Cally’ for ‘Sally’ and ‘Jenna’ for ‘Jennifer’. I’ll be very happy put the ghost of Lorrimer to rest.
The other thing that writing this blog has taught me, is that it is good to be brave. The post for ‘Space Fall’ was the one that I was worried about. Would people actually give a shit that the Liberator flight deck gained shiny metallic stripes underneath Zen, between season A and B? Would people care about the subtle lighting changes? Of course they did, stupid boy! That was it, I was on my way to articulating the ultra geek OCDness that I wanted to convey. After all this blog series is not really about Blake’s 7, it’s about watching Blake’s 7.
Writing the blog had an effect on my profession too. Mostly for the better. Long drawn out educational committee meetings were livened up in my imagination by not presenting data and statistics from the last year, but by screening a recently acquired tape of Federation wrongdoings on escalators on the planet Guildford…sorry I mean Zondawl. When the committee approved a policy or paper, this was not met by a muttering of ‘yes’, but by the clanking of goblets and a resulting electrical charge. “Dickinson affirms!’ For anyone who can’t imagine what these meetings are like, check out the early scenes in the BBC’s 1981 adaptation of ‘The History Man’.
Professional conferences also shifted from the mundane, to the urgent. For those who are caught up in these horrid affairs, I’m sure you will know about that spot mid-afternoon, when the schedule is nearing the end. You can make the decision to stay on for post conference drinks and ‘networking’, or sneakily leave a little earlier so you either fit in a bit of shopping or something where you don’t have to talk to anyone. The key is sitting near the exit. But then you discover, to your horror, that the final speaker or break out session is actually quite useful. So when 4.30 hits, you are out of that door like a man possessed. I often fall into that scenario. However in my hurry to leave the room, I end up tripping over something and letting out a deathly Governor Le Grand type scream. This really did happen. I can really ham it up when I need to.
And then I discovered different pockets of online fandom. I started with the warm, cozy surrounds of Horizon, and a Facebook group or two. But Facebook – as lovely as the groups generally are – never seemed to be quite the right medium for extensive discussion. A flirtation with Instagram, soon became a chore.
And then Twitter happened. A zesty mix of ‘everyone is is entitled to my opinions‘, it was the space occupied by your Travisina’s, Making’s and other good folk, some who were actually writers and editors in official Doctor Who / Blake’s 7 world. That was exciting! And I remember the first time that MakingBlakes7 got wind of my warblings and retweeted a post – it was like a ratings spike just like ‘City of Death’. So thanks to everyone who has given my waffling a little nudge here and here – it’s nice to know someone is reading this tripe. It really is appreciated.
Around the time of completing this post, and not long after my 41st birthday, I finally made it to my first ever Blake’s 7 convention. In fact it was my first ever convention of any kind. And it was really rather lovely. It was the ‘Maximum Power’ gathering in Oxfordshire. When you looked past the Tudorbethan houses, quaint country pubs, and bus links into the built world (by this I mean Didcot) there stood a village hall, inside of which another world was unfolding. A world that held Keating, Chappell, Grief, Hudson, Irvine, and Ainsworth hostage until they answered questions and signed autographs. It was also a world that contained relics and artefacts from another time, and voices from the past. It contained stalls, cups of tea and cake, it allowed me to put faces to avatars, and tinsel to Una’s. Hart’s were tall, and people came from Germany, Netherlands and Eugene, Oregon. Artworks went for thousands, and raffles contained riches. I even rubbed shoulders with Shivan. It was a lovely tribute to Jackie Pearce, and would have been even more flamboyant if Paul Darrow hadn’t decided to rudely depart just beforehand – somehow that just seems like a typical Avon thing to do.
And in some way, that felt like a nice end point for this blog. I’ve finally come out from the cold. And further adventures await in person, and maybe one day online. I might one day blog a bit about my other love – Doctor Who. But I know it won’t be ‘arf as fun as talking about Blake’s 7. But there will be chairs. There’s always chairs.
So, I’ve made it. This is the 52nd episode. But it’s not quite the last blog post – I have some unfinished business to return to for one more post. But that’s for another time. There’s the whole galaxy to defend first.
So here we go. My final episode. Lets see what this one throws up.
We open in space, with a ship advancing towards the camera, and a high pitched tone, which lingers.
Then there is a voice.
Quite quickly I’m feeling that this is an episode with a difference. Sure, Blake’s 7 is no stranger to using a voice over as an exposition tool – the first sentence heard in ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’ is a case in point. But this feels different. More important. It’s the long moments where we only hear the high pitched noise that we can’t quite fathom – is it the ‘sound’ of space, is it a depiction of travel, or the electronics of communication bandwidths?
Yes, space is big. Really big.
The discussion between Nova Queen, and Keldan Control starts to kick in. Yes, it’s not an exercise in pure exposition, but it is a story in its own right. An event that serves both as a prologue to the episode, and will establish how high the stakes are over the next 48 minutes or so.
The tone of the discussion is familiar to this viewer. It’s the weary, jaded, vibe of personnel who have done their job for far too long. It’s a cynical something that Blake’s 7 does so well.
Oh, and it will have a legacy too, as similar discussions will take place in ‘Death-Watch’ and ‘Gold’.
Just for this moment, Blake’s 7 feels like a movie. There’s no music and little humour, just an event playing out in front of our eyes, plain and simple.
I’m forgetting that I’m watching Blake’s 7, until the inevitable explosion, and the Dudley Simpson orchestra finally kicks in with a suitably bombastic motif, alongside a rather impressive bit of flaming debris.
Then there is a shot of the familiar Federation symbol, and the screen fades to black, with the camera tracking out into Servalan’s office. A neat transition from David Maloney, and a moment that feels like Blake’s 7 – the series – has rejoined the room. We’ve arrived into the world of videotape.
Another thing I love about Blake’s 7 is its ability to get straight to the point. The scene with Servalan and Dirkim, could begin with a bit about the wider situation, or an introduction to Dirkim himself. But it starts with two simple lines of dialogue that says everything you need to know about the two characters. “Unfortunate” says a Servalan without much in the way of compassion, and “You have a way with words” from Dirkim that both hints the audience’s view, and how Dirkim must have worked with the Supreme Commander for a long time to get away with that kind of insult.
“Computer fight coordination is breaking down on 20 different worlds. And the problem is spreading.” This is Dirkim’s role – to tell us the story. But he is doing it well.
Stock footage from ‘The World About Us (see ‘Headhunter’) is wheeled out to explain the climate control issues affecting the Federation worlds. It’s another reason Blake’s 7 feels so topical right now.
I’m enjoying this scene. Dirkim is saying the things that other aides probably wouldn’t say (lets not forget that Rai was just an over horny teenager, who couldn’t believe his luck when the Supreme Commander ran her fingers through his hair). In addition, Servalan is clearly rattled. It’s an intense performance from both actors.
Durkim presses the point, and Servalan removes her ice cool demeanour to assess the problem with uncharacteristic urgency – “No one knows where Star One is. No one at all.” It’s been an excellent five minute introduction and set up.
Of course, this is the point where we need to cut to the shot of the Liberator on its way, with luck, to Star One.
And right on cue – it does.
Dudley Simpson accompanies that lovely shot of the Liberator flying past a distant sun and a number of planets, with a synthesised sound that is quite distinctive, and he adds a touch of deep brass, and an air of bombast. Again, it’s a moment where Blake’s 7 feels like a movie.
Blake’s finger circles the region where Star One is located in a wonderfully Acorn Antiques type way, making sure the camera can clearly see where they are heading.
“You’re asking us to plunge out into infinity.” It’s a great line, and has got me thinking about whether I’ve ever plunged out into anything? Hmmm.
You know when a scene is so good, that you stop typing, or have nothing to say about it, other than it is bloomin’ brilliant. The crew are fighting, and Avon gets a number of last words. ‘Rable‘ is perhaps my favourite – a word that Chris Boucher will bring out again in the very last episode of all. And he delivers his missiles from behind Blake, just like Servalan asserts her power by walking and talking behind her (usually seated) companions.
Would you believe it. It’s late afternoon, and I’ve just heard of the death of Paul Darrow. Right in the middle of writing this. But right now, in this moment, he is very, very, much alive.
I’ve always been aware that slowly my favourite performers are shuffling. And I made the decision to try to keep this blog free of tributes to the recently departed. But I needed to talk about Dudley Simpson’s contribution to my childhood – his work was part of the wider DNA – and I have to make a some kind of tribute to Paul Darrow. What came to me first was a mental list of his stares. Yes, he was good at stares. There was the ‘Cygnus Alpha’ squint, and the ‘Redemption’ “as long as you are not behind me”, but best of all is the deadly glance towards Vila, as it is decided that he has to inspect the inner workings of Scorpio, in ‘Animals’.
Yes, Darrow was ace, and will continue to be so for eternity. And whenever I watch that episode of Pointless that Darrow and Keating won, I will take great delight that they shared a dressing room one last time.
Back on the Liberator, the scene is still going on. Vila and Jenna react to the agreement that Blake has just made to Avon, but Cally is thinking of the bigger picture. “Are we fanatics?” She asks. And it’s the question that we have waited two seasons to confront. Blake’s response is a perfect climax to his character, motivationally speaking.
His story is told.
And as the camera tracks out for a four-shot, I’m thinking that shiny, durable leather is a must for universe changing revolution. Fanatics and fetishists.
Then we see a simple but very effective model shot. Space itself appears darker. The stars are difficult to see as the Liberator flies away from the galaxy. Simpson’s music once again suggests that this is a journey that has much at stake. But then his music shifts gear – swirling, menacing, brooding, as we cut to that glorious slow tracking shot of space command headquarters coming into view, for one last time. There’s a nice sense of full circle, as I’m reminded of the same shot when it was used to introduce the satellite in ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ – using almost the same music score.
Servalan has called in the army, and Durkim is on the receiving end of roaming hands and the barrel of a gun.
This scene between Durkim and Servalan is also excellent, for the reason that it tells the story of the single biggest upheaval within the Federation, simply through dialogue. It’s economical in budgetary terms, but the impact that Boucher’s dialogue is bringing to this scene – and others before it – mean that there is no need to see battles, conflict and turmoil. I don’t give it a second thought. It’s really rather brilliant.
Soon the scene settles down, as Durkim is given an intriguing extra dimension, through his relationship with Lurena. Servalan’s glance as she senses Durkim’s reaction is delicious. The fact that Durkim is reluctant to acknowledge his friendship with her, and his unawareness that she is on Star One, suggests the hold that the Federation has on the people who work within it, and the ease of manipulation in order to achieve it. “Appalling”, Durkim says. “Inspiring“, replies Servalan.
I love how Durkim calls Servalan ‘Madame President’ as he departs, only for her secretary to refer to her as ’Supreme Commander’. Clearly there is a need for some ‘continuing professional development’ for that administrative team.
We’re a third of the way through the episode, and we leave Servalan and space command for now, with a lovely transition from photo Lurena, to real Lurena. The action now turns to Star One.
And then the tone of the episode changes. There is still a sense of paranoia, but we’re also into suspenseful territory, as Lurena is surrounded by the other personnel of Star One. It’s a calm clinical scene, and the portrayals of the team feel deliberately stilted – a bit Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the 1978 version.
A chase ensues, and luckily there is that most sci-fi of hiding places – behind a grill. It’s at this point I’d just like to remind you of how brilliant Brian Clemett’s lighting for television studio is.
Back in space, Simpson is once again using a riff that is unique to this episode, as a very silvery looking Liberator continues to plunge into the infinite.
A star is glimpsed. Star One?
Lurena gets a shot in, and Zhokov is gunned down. The mystery deepens, as an alien green comes into play.
We’re switching between the Liberator flight deck and the control centre on Star One on a frequent basis, until we see David A. Hardy’s final contribution to the series. It’s an interesting single planetary surface, with what could be various satellites surrounding it. As Vila says, it’s yet another garden paradise.
Ooo, Boucher throws in a hint of humour for Blake, when he requests a door. It got me thinking, when was the last time Blake displayed any kind of joviality or crack a joke in this series? The answer, I think, might actually be his “living in a pickle barrel” line in ‘Killer’. I’m talking about a line with blatant humorous intent, you understand.
Avon directs the detectors toward Andromeda, and poses a question with infinite significance. Is the anti-matter minefield there to keep ‘us’ in, or something else out?
Lurena looks out to a rather impressively bleak and rugged quarry, and double backs into a storeroom, where the former Fab Four are revealed. We’ve reached bodysnatcher territory.
On the surface of the unnamed planet, I’m admiring the eye masks used by the alien search party. This is the point where – with the benefit of repeated viewing – I’m thinking everything is just ticking over normally for a Blake’s 7 episode. We have a search for a lone individual, there are industrial pipes sticking out of the ground behind them, and it’s a grey and drab day. And yet, this is the point in the Blake’s 7 narrative, where the biggest things are happening.
As Blake hurries off the Liberator, finally we get to see Jenna openly share her concerns about Blake to Avon. It’s a character progression of sorts, as when you think back to the events of ‘Trial’ she didn’t really question Blake so openly at any point, preferring to walk away with her cards close to her chest.
We’re at the half way point, and the main action of the episode shifts to the surface of the planet, as Blake, Avon and Cally teleport down and avoid the search party already on the surface.
Maloney is throwing in some lovely location shots, as the sun catches the camera. And as the door to the base opens, we see the full extent that the Federation interior designers went to when creating an underground complex installation.
Onboard the Liberator, Jenna observes a ship preparing to land on the planet. At this point Vila is relegated to a series of voice overs across a number of scenes. But Jenna looks at us as she delivers her lines. It’s a technique David Maloney uses frequently in this episode, and is a neat way of increasing the urgency.
Boucher now throws in a new mystery – ‘The Final Act’. And for Travis, it will be. But for now, Blake is Travis, and Cally is his mother. Now, that’s a sit-com waiting to be made.
And on the surface, Dudley Simpson brings out the flute, meaning a question needs to be answered. The hooded man makes his way past a familiar looking column (more about this in a minute).
Avon Vs Travis. A chance for Boucher to throw in brilliant lines, each slightly more brilliant than the one before. Where do you begin? Oh, and I love how Brian Croucher impassively delivers his lines by looking down his nose – excellent stuff.
Lecturer Orac explains the significance of the minefield, and Vila gets to show off his wariness of aliens. But it’s a good scene, as Vila actually shows his intelligence and a sharp instinct. He quickly argues against Orac’s conclusions, and bit by bit makes enough connections – a scout ship, perhaps – to convince himself and Jenna that they need to take action.
As we move into the final third of the episode, Boucher throws in the other main peril – the bombs. Blake primes the first one, and sticks it to the side of a control unit.
Lurena throws a spanner in the works, and as Avon discovers the dead crew, of which Lurena claims are trying to kill her, he throws in the brilliant line “They have a novel approach to the job”.
Avon’s killing of the guard is quite gruesome, as blood splatters the wall. His slow walk to the camera and Simpson’s dramatic sting is a key moment, as the big reveal takes place.
Avon gets another amazing line – “Unfriendly. Which is fortunate, really. They’d be difficult to love.”
Jenna and Vila discover the alien fleet advancing behind the minefield.
DUH, DUH, DUUUUHHHHH!!!
We learn that Travis has finally succumbed to years of abuse and manipulation from Servalan and his own obsessive behaviour – he is ready to betray all of humanity. And as Blake realises this, Travis finally gets to do what he has always wanted to.
Luckily he is a lousy shot when push comes to shove. Yet for a short time, the audience on first transmission must have been wondering. Gan’s death has made us come to realise that anyone is fallible.
Watching this episode again, I’ve come to the conclusion that I would not have wanted to see how Travis made a deal with the aliens, at whatever point he made it. I think his mental state would have been so unpredictable, that to give the audience too much information would have lessened the impact of this episode. It took two seasons, but Travis finally became mysterious.
I’ve mentioned in ‘Trial‘ how much I admire Brian Croucher’s contribution to Blake’s 7. Croucher whispers in his performance here, and he is perhaps at his most chilling of all in this final episode.
As Travis discusses the deactivation of the defence system, I’m thinking that I can’t actually see the end of the episode approaching. Then we cut to the waiting space fleet, and a rapid cut back to the flight deck and suddenly it all changes.
OK, quick decisions are now needing to be made.
And it is Jenna who makes the big call.
I’m reminded that in Blake’s 7 there is no clue ever given that any of the regular characters might be making their final appearance. Gan just gets crushed, Cally disappears off screen, and here is Jenna making her final contribution to the series. But she at least gets to make one final and crucial decision. In fact it might be one of the most important things anyone does in the whole Blake’s 7 saga. She contacts Servalan. This single assertive act will have a massive impact on the universe post Blake. It’s at least some kind of final act of her own.
I wonder what the possibilities would have been if she hadn’t made the call? Would season C been the story of the Liberator flighting for survival in a universe run by an unknown entity such as the Andromedans? On one hand it might have been an interesting new set of situations for the drama, or, at worst, a simple case of replacing one force with another. Nonetheless Jenna makes the call. And it says a lot about her character and her relationship with Blake. It’s interesting to see how the crew behaved and acted when Blake was not present. They’ve aways came across as a bit directionless – I’m thinking of the scenes towards the end of ‘Orac’, when Blake hadn’t returned, or the disagreements in ‘Horizon’. But in this instance, Jenna’s strong character combined with the influence that Blake must have had on the whole crew, means she thinks instinctively about the problem, works out the strategy and makes a positive decision. It’s just a shame that her character didn’t contain more of this.
Back to the episode, I mentioned Maloney’s decision to break the forth wall with some of the dialogue. On this occasion it doesn’t quite come off. It’s a point which suggests time was getting very tight in the studio.
And then Brian Croucher also breaks the fourth wall, which doesn’t seen so rushed.
The Final Act.
In every episode of Blake’s 7 there is at least one shot that reminds me how wonderful the flight deck set is. This shot – with Vila and Jenna on either side and Zen looking out of a darkened flight deck is the one. It’s effectiveness added by the reverb on Peter Tuddenham’s voice. Zen is both massive, and far, far away.
Meanwhile Travis gets a unforeseen shot in the back.
And Parton. (Or Dolly, as I like to call him).
I’m guessing that Avon is stubbing out Travis’s blaster mechanism as he enters the control room. It’s not quite clear.
So Blake is not dead.
And neither is Travis.
Oh hang on, he is now.
What’s going on!!!???? It’s great by the way. Proof that death in Blake’s 7 is always just around the corner.
I must say that Travis gets a brilliant death scene. Short, sharp, horrible. A perfect summation of the character. But also an indication that his death needs to happen right now – there’s a very different show just around the corner.
But first there is the climax to deal with. We cut to Dudley Simpson’s car spring, and a close up shot – for the last regular time – of space command, as President Servalan responds to the Liberator’s warning.
It’s all getting very urgent.
It’s easy to see the scene where Blake tells Avon that he has always trusted him as a pivotal moment – a handover – where the focus of the series moves from the titular character to the star of the show.
And it is a great scene. However I feel that the moment where Blake tells Avon about the explosives they have planted, and how they need to save the base, combined with Avon’s resulting leadership in finding them, is the real moment where the series passes from Blake to Avon. Travis has been dispatched, crucially by Avon, and with that Blake’s active involvement is ended, for now. The baton has been passed, and with Avon’s “MOVE” directed towards Cally, the new lead can take over.
And move he does, alongside Cally, whose more muted presence will continue into season C, although she will still play an important part of the series. This scene feels like a prologue to the next season, as we see two key characters try to save a facility whose legacy will be felt in the new universe, where the only aim for the Federation is to slowly rebuild.
On the surface, this is a typical build up to an episode climax – characters are running around corridors trying to prevent an explosion. But this is Blake’s 7 at the absolute top of its game. The two characters (Avon and Cally) represent things to come, while two characters (one dead, and one seriously wounded) suddenly become unimportant. The whole series has spent two years building up to this moment, and will spend another two years seeing it all unravel. This moment is the point of symmetry.
And everyone is working really hard, and seriously. Sure Avon and Cally are doing the running, and Lurena is providing the increased tension, but listen to Dudley Simpson’s soundtrack during this sequence. Never has a car spring sounded so dramatic – even more so than when Mr. Sin advances towards us in ‘The Talons of Weng Chaing’ (1977). As the tempo increases and the notes ascend, I’m thinking that this is – when you strip away regular motifs such as the Federation march and the heraldic Liberator – one of Dudley’s best scores for the whole run.
There is a very large explosion, that rocked Gloucestershire. And now the fun and games begin.
As Servalan watches a myriad of audio and visual information, Durkim neatly sums up the crisis – “But what happens in the meantime?”
Ah, I quite like Durkim. I thought he was one of the most effective of Servalan’s many ‘aides’ featured in Blake’s 7. This is largely down to John Bown’s performance, which is played very straight, and with a real sense of bemusement at both Servalan’s requirements, decision making, and the general situation unfolding in front of him. As mentioned earlier, his job was mostly exposition and audience viewpoint, but he handled it with ease.
On the flight deck, Avon is confronted by an angry crew – especially Vila – and leads the crew into the front line.
And then there is this shot below. It could have been a very different series. Cally in the background, Vila out of shot (drunk, presumably) and next to Jenna stands Avon. Standing where Blake has stood a million times before.
It’s a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have looked like if contracts (and BBC options on them) had not reached their end.
And reaching his end is Blake. Gareth Thomas. Boy what a performance. This last scene (for now) reminds me of what a fabulous job he did. Like his character, he always led. And while there were times in this second series, where I really feel his heart wasn’t quite in it (‘Hostage’, for example) it was a leading performance. We owe him a lot.
And as he delivers his final line about trust, all eyes are on Avon’s reaction. It’s a great moment from Darrow, who gives everything and nothing. We can read all we want to. Personally, it’s the brief blink, and a raise of the eyebrows just as he walks out of the shot that says so much.
Look at these model shots. This is the big moment in Blake’s 7. And it’s delivered with complete conviction through a series of voice overs and the best models that could be made with whatever pennies where left in the budget. Some people have mocked this fleet – but I’m sure they couldn’t have done any better. I know I couldn’t.
And Simpson is still selling us the tension through some fabulous music.
Then there is a lighting change on the flight deck, and for the very first time, the depth of the set is lost, and it comes across as actually quite small in size. Not only is Roger Murray-Leach a genius, but Brian Clemett was too. He know how to light it, give depth, and maximise the production values. I’m sure I must have mentioned him somewhere?
And then the scene builds up to a series of big close ups, pouty lips, angsty Vila expressions, and – dare I say it – a slightly bored looking Cally.
And the music builds, until Avon makes the call that cements his new found role as leader.
(And our imaginations take over).
Boy, what a great episode.
It’s significant because all the strands of plot and story arc combine. It is the Birmingham New Street of Blake’s 7 – the central point, the hub, the interconnection. The underground complex, where chaos and confusion is just round the corner. (You should be able to tell that I’ve just had the misfortune to be stuck at that particular railway station).
‘Star One’ is a fascinating example of how differently a season climax can unfold, twice in one season. ‘Pressure Point’ establishes an idea that Blake’s attempt to destroy the Federation was doomed, even when he had the best starship in the galaxy. The resources and infrastructure of the administration mean that Blake’s attempts were no more than irritating.
So how could he possibly defeat it?
Perhaps through an idealogical approach, swaying the citizens of the universe. But faced with drug controlled programming and military force, this seems, not impossible, but certainly unlikely.
Then there is the zeal. The idea that through sheer grit and determination Blake might somehow succeed tactically, through planning, collaboration and strategy. And again, it would be a hard slog for minimal return, but it might provide a small chance. And it is the hard slog, the fight for a ‘freedom’ that is a key theme of the entire series. There is a sense of collaboration with Kasabi, but even after she falls, Blake’s strategy remains true, to hit the computer control alone. And as he sets off to Star One, he is still not relying on any other force, or ally – he is going it alone, with his crew in tow, just as he did from the very beginning.
So that leaves luck, fortune, serendipity, circumstance.
And it is this that offers the real key as to how Blake can possibly defeat the Federation. And ‘Star One’ provides it. When he ran into the empty room in ‘Pressure Point’ it really was the most chilling moment in the entire series, a totally futile return for all his endeavours. It was far more chilling than the death of Gan, which felt like a moot point. However in ‘Star One, the work is being done for Blake. The Andromedans and Travis are inadvertently opening up the possibility that Blake could finally achieve his goal. He teleports, makes his way into the base with ease, sets some grenades, and all is ready. Of course, Blake could not have foreseen these factors that are playing into his hands nicely, and this provides his real genuine moral crisis – does he destroy the Federation? The answer is reached almost instantly, and this says a lot about Blake.
I think the idea of ‘luck’ being the way that Blake could defeat the Federation is the only truly plausible way in the tough, brutal, uncompromising universe created in the series. It’s a perfect mechanism for the single greatest incident in Blake’s 7.
And it is this reason that Star One is the most signifiant episode of Blake’s 7 bar none. Sure it is the one that straddles the two great thrusts of the series – the Blake era, and the post Blake era. It’s the one that sets up the most significant moment ever, one that is felt even up to the very final episode, and it’s the one where the rules of storytelling are changed. It’s the episode where everything happens. But it is a idea that the biggest motivation of the series – to destroy the Federation – is really out of Blake’s hands. And it tells us that Blake’s 7 – the series – is the serial where anything can happen, at any time, and no matter how much thought or planning you put in, it is circumstance that will dictate the final outcome. And that, dramatically speaking, is really exciting when watching Blake’s 7 as a serial.
The second great thing about ‘Star One’ is how efficiently everything is conveyed on screen. It’s an epic, far reaching story. And you know what, it isn’t a high octane episode with stylish visual licks, and a sense that everyone is working 110% to make this the climax of all climaxes. It’s not ‘The Caves of Androzani’ or anything like that. Actually it is measured, carefully paced, and economic. Stories and situations are told with words, and the way those words are delivered are totally convincing. Nothing outstays its welcome. I always felt that Servalan and Durkim played a massive part in this episode, but actually they are in a couple of long scenes at the start, and a little moment at the end. Travis is only in it briefly. There is little of the Blake’s 7 flamboyance. It’s is simply that everyone is taking this very seriously, and playing it very straight. The situation is more than enough.
It’s also made me realise how the impact of this episode is intrinsically linked to ‘Pressure Point’. Because that episode contains all the high impact action and set piece, but by the time we reach ‘Star One’ there is no need for minefields, collapsing corridors, monkey bars, and ladders. The action here is more subtle, and mysterious, and the whole feel is paranoid, investigative, cautious and suspenseful. It is all about dialogue and discovery, rather than danger and dynamism.
So what of Blake? Plenty has been discussed about his legacy, as the show is so utterly revolved around him. So I ended up thinking more about what I will miss. I started thinking about how he was a foil for every character onboard the Liberator to a greater or lesser extent. Look at the way he interacts with everyone over the two series; the trust with Jenna and Gan, the connection with Cally in regard to the fight against the Federation, the manner in which he handles Vila, and of course the conflict with Avon. This conflict will be sorely lost in later series, where Tarrant lacks the intellectual conflict that Avon needs, and the opportunities for snappy dialogue and deeper drama is reduced. Even some of Avon’s best quips in later episodes are about Blake (Traitor etc).
Jenna’s last words “They can’t all come through that gap at once” are less memorable, and it’s a strange non goodbye, in that she will be name checked for another couple of episodes, but more importantly, between now and ‘Aftermath’, she still has some serious space piloting to do.
On to the cast.
Jenny Twigge has plenty of TV credits until the 1990’s. This includes a good chunk of my childhood, through Grange Hill and Byker Grove. Around the time of her Blake’s 7 performance, she also appeared in The Professionals. However for a kick-ass cap of her in another role, check out Ivan Kirby’s rather fine Crown Court website.
TV credits galore for David Webb, who also appeared in Doctor Who, on a Colony in Space.
Doctor Who also includes Gareth Armstrong in a starring role as Giuliano in The Masque of Mandragora.
John Bown pops up in plenty of telefantasy, from Doctor Who and the Daleks, where he plays the Thal Antodus, to the Commander in Doomwatch.
Paul Toothill (Marcol) appears to have died at an untimely age, but can be seen in a number of TV series from Juliet Bravo, to Bread.
Michael Maynard (Leeth) is yet another actor whose TV credits continue into the 1990’s, and plenty of them there are too. For my money, it’s his ‘Dad at the Disco’ performance, sandwiched between Sandi Toksvig and Neil Buchanan, in Saturday morning kids show No.73 that is one of my favourites.
But what about the supporting artistes? The technicians are largely familiar names, who pop up in other episodes, such as Bobby James – the man who doesn’t get a credit for saying “We’ve got them” in ‘Powerplay’.
There’s also David Cann, an actor who is very familiar. For me his most memorable appearance is as the unsettling Doctor in ‘Jam’ by Chris Morris, screened on Channel 4. The words “Lob Ratio” will never be forgotten.
Servalan’s bodyguards are also familiar too.
Here’s a thing. You know the two technicians who briefly appear in the laboratory in ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’? I was delighted to discover that they are the same two who frisk Durkim on Space Command. Step forward David Glen and William Wyatt. Clearly a life in the lab was not for them. They could have had their own mini-series.
What about the opening scene between Keldan control and Nova Queen? Hugh Dickson was the uncredited voice of Keldan control. He has a whopping list of credits, including a run in the original Poldark, while Michael Spice might be famous for his roles in two Tom Baker classics, but in terms of his face, his arduous time spent in the make up chair during ‘Whose Doctor Who’ (The Lively Arts) is what springs to mind. It’s interesting that they didn’t get a credit.
The set design is handled by Ken Ledsham for the location sequences. His door marked entrance, is typical Ledsham, with big panels, curved corners and a suitably mid 1970’s feel.
In the studio, Ray London was responsible for the sets. His Doctor Who designs can be seen in near future prisons, 1966 London occupied by War Machines, and the planet occupied by the Krotons. Although his work on ‘Dawn of the Gods’ fails to excite me, his underground complex captures my imagination, providing a circular motif to his designs, and a range of textures on the walls and columns.
It is easy to see why they were kept in storage, and reused in ‘Children of Auron’ the following year.
I also recognise the use of the control panel operated by the Mutoids in ‘Hostage’. It can be seen at the back of the room where Lurena hides the bomb.
It’s at this point I would like to celebrate one of those little props that pop up from time to time. There are many that have done the rounds. There is this cone shaped object that I’ve seen a couple of times in other times and places – such as behind Lalla Ward in ‘Meglos’.
In Blake’s 7, it is perhaps the greatest conceit of all. It is seen in the foreground as Travis walks along the surface of the planet, acting as either a gigantic piece of machinery, or a part of the landing gear of his spacecraft. It’s simple and a neat effect. A minute or so later we get a sense of it’s true scale as – with a little bit of dressing up – it sits either side of the door way, as Avon gently convinces Travis to walk through.
I think I’ve mentioned how excellent Dudley Simpson’s score is for this episode. It uses a similar tone to ‘The Keeper’, and is perhaps his best score for the whole series.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER?
You’d need to prep them first with some carefully chosen episodes that tell the story of Blake’s 7. But if you can capture their interest, they will be fanatics once they watch this.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
Avon meets Travis.
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Sorry, but it is Jenna reading her lines to the camera. The clock struck 10pm.
VERDICT IN TEN WORLD EXACTLY.
The biggest episode ever, sold convincingly through small budget techniques.
So are we fanatics? Of course we are.
REFERENCES AND PICTURE CREDITS
Thank you to someone on Horizon who took some lovely pictures of the Maximum Power convention. Apologies, but I’ve lost the link.