Exciting news today from The Telegraph newspaper. The classic British SF series Blake’s 7 is to be remade by FremantleMedia and the SyFy network.
Blake’s 7 was the brainchild of Terry Nation, inventor of the Daleks and one of the first writers on Doctor Who in 1963. In a moment of desperation in a meeting at the BBC, Nation pitched the idea of a Dirty Dozen in space, with an appeal to a ‘kidult’ audience. To his surprise, this was the only idea that was picked up by the in-house executives.
A space opera was born, showing more hope than cunning financial planning on the part of the developers. With a tiny budget in comparison to the previous year’s Star Wars, Blake’s 7 faced a constant battle of resources over its four season run (1978-1981). The final results are sometimes creaky but always imaginative, telling the tale of a band of desperate freedom fighters in their struggle against an all-powerful galactic Federation.
Nation admitted that he hadn’t really developed the idea, having come up with the suggestion in a flash of inspiration. This led to various strange aspects of the show, quite apart from the notorious missed apostrophe in the series title (on-screen it appeared as Blakes 7). First of all, there were never seven members of the crew, so Blake and the ship’s computer both counted towards the titular seven. Even more problematic was the fact that the series lost its star, Gareth Thomas, after just two seasons. Blake’s 7 became the show without Blake, and without seven members on the team.
Nevertheless, the series thrived, mainly due to two of the most outrageous characters ever to appear in British SF. The crew was now led by Avon, a computer hacker and thief turned into a remorseless and relentless renegade. Played with gusto by Paul Darrow, it was never clear whether Avon was a hero or a villain. At times, his opaque motivation could lead his own followers to weep with fear at the thought of how callously he would deal with them, as in the fourth season episode Orbit (scripted by top Who scribe Robert Holmes), which had to be edited before transmission because it was so emotionally alarming.
In counterpoint to Avon was his nemesis, the cold-blooded Servalan, who rises to become the leader of the Federation. Like all the characters in the series, she faces constant reversals of fortune, which at one stage throws her into the arms of Avon on a desert alien world. It is one of the most extraordinary love scenes you are ever likely to see anywhere.
Cheap, at times silly, and suffering from terrible special effects, Blake’s 7 was also years ahead of its time. Few contemporary SF series showed such strong female characters as Servalan, ship’s pilot Jenna, telepath Cally and the young warrior Dayna, whose bow-toting daring pre-dates The Hunger Games by about thirty years.
All four series are available on BBC DVD, including the classic final episode. Without giving too much away, the episode’s scriptwriter Chris Boucher later described himself as the “man who killed Father Christmas”, owing to its transmission in the heart of the holiday season. It was a tragedy for kidults everywhere.
(More information on the show and the audio version at the Blake’s 7 website