The perfect foil for Blake was Paul Darrow's Avon, a near psychopathic criminal mastermind who only fought to save his skin. The cowardly Vila (Michael Keating) was almost as memorable, while the female leads were Jenna (Sally Knyvette), a smuggler and pilot, and determined Auron telepath Cally (Jan Chappell). Also on board was Gan (David Jackson), inhibited from violence by a brain implant. With even the good guys being criminals, including murderers, this was a galaxy far, far away from previous screen space opera. Though undeniably dated, the show is still vintage TV SF, right from the opening three-parter "The Way Back / Spacefall / Cygnus Alpha" to the cliff-hanging shocker "Orac", which introduces the final member of the un-magnificent seven.
On the DVD: Blake's 7, Series 1 presents the 13 episodes across five DVDs so as to maximise picture quality. Following the BBC's Doctor Who DVDs the 4:3 images are as strong as one could expect from a 1970s TV show shot partly on video (interiors) and 16 mm film (exteriors). Film shots have some grain and vary considerably in quality while the video material shows occasional minor tearing and flaws in the tape. Otherwise these are as good as Blake's 7 is ever going to look. The same is true of the mono sound, which is clear and undistorted.
Each DVD is introduced with a CGI reincarnation of the series' famous logo and three episodes are offered with a commentary. These are "Spacefall" (Sally Knyvette, Michael Keating and producer David Maloney), "Seek-Locate-Destroy" (Keating, Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif) and "Project Avalon" (Knyvette, Pearce and Greif). The chat ranges from high-school reunion playfulness, including singing the title music, to some more serious insights into making the show, to an amusing running debate as to whether Glynis Barber appears in "Project Avalon". Other extras are "2 out takes, a missing scene, 1 robot, 2 flat feet and a blooper". These are exactly what they say: an extract from Blue Peter in 1978 with Lesley Judd making a Blake's 7 bracelet; nine clip compilations introducing the main characters; a synopsis for each episode; and a trailer for the Series 2 DVDs. --Gary S Dalkin
Very much an ensemble piece rather than a vehicle for one or two actors, Blake's 7 gripped its contemporary audiences and continues to enthrall today. Rather more than a simple struggle between the forces of good and evil, the series -- for example --sees a refreshingly self-aware Roj Blake question whether his actions are that of the terrorist or the revolutionary, and is on occasion harrassed as much as he is assisted by his crew; characters die or disappear with daring regularity, and it is a testament to the verve of the show and the vigour of its underlying themes that it outlasted the departure of its eponymous protagonist for a further two seasons whilst its fandom continues to thrive, with hundreds of fanzines having been consigned to print, and regular conventions still drawing healthy numbers of delegates. Fans of Babylon 5 will also find much to enjoy in the series (as, apparently, did its creator, J. Michael Straczynski)
Blake's 7 explodes on to the screen with a brace of gripping opening episodes which stand up as a wonderful piece of self-contained drama in their own right, and continued to develop with a pleasing consistency, due in no small part to the fact that Nation penned all thirteen episodes of the first season himself.
There are, of course, a few gripes: the series' female characters are not as strong as they could have been, with Cally diminishing from diamond-hard freedom fighter in Series 1 ('may you die alone and silent') to administering first-aid and matronly advice to the crew.
That said, there are so many things to take pleasure from in Blake's 7, that no brief account of its many facets could possibly do it justice. Instead, why not just sit back and enjoy the strong storyline, fascinating characters (the archly camp Servalan, sardonic Avon, single-minded Travis, and wonderfully irascible Orac), sparkling dialogue and thoughtful design: the beautiful design of the Liberator (inside and out), the chunky teleport bracelet and 'curling tong' handgun, the memorable design of the Federation Troopers' uniforms, all complemented by the rousing opening credits and rich incidental music of Dudley Simpson. Wonderful entertainment, and a set of DVDs you will return to more often than you might expect.
But a generation after the original release, it's time for a revaluation. Far from being an embarrassment, Blake's 7 is a jewel, embodying the very best of British production values from the golden age of the BBC's output.
I'm watching episode 6: "Seek-Locate-Destroy" as I write this review.
What springs out?
First, conflict. Conflict among the crew of the Liberator, conflict between Servalan and her Federation bosses, and with Travis, and with her own men.
Second, taut dialogue. Irony, biting sarcasm, political intrigue, diplomacy, tact, anger, disdain.
Third, characterisation. Even quite minor characters are fully realised, and the new major characters Servalan and Travis establish their own identities memorably and immediately.
Fourth, plot. "Seek-Locate-Destroy" is really a minor, in-between episode, sandwiched between the speculative SF "The Web" and the whodunnit "Mission to Destiny". But its own story is powerfully drawn, tense and engaging.
Fifth, modelling. The models of the space station and the Liberator are highly detailed and entirely convincing.
Finally, politics. Sinister, manipulative and fully realised.
What about the famous shortcomings - the special effects and use of quarries and powerstations to represent alien landscapes? In retrospect, these are nowhere near as bad as they seemed to be seen through the eyes of the 80s and 90s. To be fair, the opening credits are very weak by modern standards. In other episodes some of the space voyages use the same graphic technology, which is disappointing. On the other hand, the more usual 'white spacecraft against a black background' is very powerful indeed. The powerstations and quarries - unless you are watching for them - are a strength rather than a weakness, conjuring up the grimly totalitarian society of the Federation.
The rather sneering attitude to Blake's 7 - including Amazon's own review, which describes the series as 'dated' - says more about shifts in fashion than about the quality of the production. Blake's 7 was a late 70's, early 80's show. In the 90's, it was customary to look on that entire period as being a low point (except for punk). But we now look back on the 90's in rather the same way.
Taking everything together, of all the SF series that I have seen, including American greats Babylon 5 and Star Trek (original, TNG, Voyager, Enterprise and DS9), it is Blake's 7 which best stands the best of time for me, and which seems as fresh and original as it did when I first saw it back in 1978.
* * *
As a DVD to own and cherish, Blake's 7 series I is really something rather special. Every episode is different - an Orwellian nightmare of show trials, a prison break (failed), a sinister religion on a barren world, an 'enemy within' story, a psionics story, espionage-counter-espionage, a murder mystery, a medical emergency, and a desperate race to obtain a super-computer. The final series cliff-hanger is absolutely perfect, and will leave you rushing to get series 2 (unless you already know what happens, and even then...).
It also offers the delightful Blue Peter 'make a teleport bracelet' guide, as well as other goodies.
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