Friday, 11 March 2016


The question is, what do we call the series now? It’s like 1,000,000B.C. or The Tribe of Gum: just factually inaccurate. I mean, Blake never had ‘7’ in the first place: Messianic as he might have been, the poor man never actually talked about himself in the third person, and one of his ‘7’ was his spaceship. And if you count him, you have to count Orac, which makes 8. Till the death of Gan…

No, to avoid all confusion, I think they – or rather, I – will have to change the name by which we refer to this weird and wonderful sci-fi soap. Surely a prime contender would be ‘Space Babes’: Avon being Space Babe #1, of course. (And I’d also argue for his name being in the title, just to ensure he never leaves.)

But this story seemed overrun with space babes, and they all want a piece of Space Babe #1 (who can blame them?). First Avon is awoken in a cave with a kiss from new Liberator recruit Dayna. Then he gets a crème de menthe fuelled snog from deposed president Servalan. Perhaps we know that Dayna’s sister Lauren isn’t going to stick around because she doesn’t swoon at the sight of Paul Darrow; whereas Space Babe #5, Steven Pacey, is definitely interested.

I’d also like to put in a special mention for
Doctor Who Guest Star

and UNIT babe Richard Franklin, playing the great-great-great-great grandson of Captain Mike Yates. I was tremendously disappointed that Yates Jr. was exploded by Vikings within five minutes of the opening titles. It’s a terrible waste, as Invasion of the Dinosaurs proved he’s an excellent baddie.

I do hope we get a Nick Courtney cameo in an upcoming adventure. Can’t you just see Courtney squaring up to Darrow? Courtney’s got form as a villain too, as any fule kno. I’d cast him as Travis’s older, deadlier brother. I’d call the episode AVENGER. I think I’d probably film it in North Wales…

Anyway, before I drift off into one of my ‘if I made Blakes 7’ reveries, can I take a moment to ponder the disappearance of every single crewmember bar Space Babe #1 and Orac. Is this really it? Vila and Cally dispatched? Blake and Jenna zooming away on missions of destiny of their own?

If so, it’s an act of terrific chutzpah. It wasn’t long ago we had a spaceship heaving with have-a-go heroes in sci-fi tabards, being chased by not one but two supervillains. Now it’s Dayna and this mysterious, somewhat effeminate space pirate – in a universe where the Federation’s disintegrated and green blobby aliens are trying to invade – and Terry Nation is poised to endlessly recast the storylines of two of last year’s best adventures (‘Killer’ and ‘Countdown’) with Servalan as the unpredictable figure from Avon’s past.

And I’d definitely watch that. It’s tempting to say that in focusing on Avon in this adventure, he’s finally realised who’s the star of this show – but that would be untrue, because of course it’s Servalan, Servalan, Servalan, and Nation gives her some fantastic material here. It’s so bold and unexpected to have her suddenly cast defenceless into an alien environment: to see her manipulate, persuade, threaten and kill in cold blood.

If she isn’t over-used in Season 3, there’s no telling how amazing this character – and Jacqueline Pearce’s totally sublime performance – can go.

As for the rest of them, I really don’t know what to think yet. I’m sad to see Jenna leave (and offscreen, too), but I don’t blame Sally Knyvette for going: the most she got to do in that last run of stories was flirt with a man in a purple leather miniskirt, and nobody needs work that badly. As for Cally and Villa, I fully expect them to bounce back next episode, but doing only goodness knows what. This episode demonstrates how exciting characters can be when they’re not jostling for attention in a rugby scrum of space colleagues, when they don’t have a massive alien spaceship for protection and no comedy pratfalls to lighten the tone.

I like my Blakes 7 like I like my drinks: bright green, made of goodness knows what and liable to induce extremely arch dialogue.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Season Two!

Oops. I seem to have missed, oh, thirteen weeks of the blog. Did you miss me? No, don’t answer that: I’m more sensitive than I appear…

How did it happen? Well, I lost faith in the show, and I didn’t want to write about it: nothing’s going to corroborate negativity more than writing a blog about it. And who’d want to read it? I couldn’t stand a blog on any season of Who where every entry began: “Oh Christ, let me tell you about this one…”

Get a bloody life!, I would say. I quite often shout this at the mirror, in fact.

The sad thing being that, like Season 8 of Who, I have no record of what I thought of Blake’s 7 Season 2. No chronicle of my growing respect for the production team, as they drew together the threads of Blake and Servalan’s stories, tangled them in knots round the innocent Liberator crew and accursed Travis, dragging them up and down the universe, through all the Skaro’s and even to the space cabaret that Doctor Who extras go to after death.

I’m not saying this season’s perfect. I couldn’t love anything that was. The first six episodes made me consider faking my own death and forging a new persona as a sports fan denying all previous association with the world of British sci-fi telly and its fruity lead actors. Those stories are full of great characters (like Carnell the psycho-strategist) drumming their fingers while events revolve around them like a doddery baggage carousel.

And you have to say it: Scott Fredericks, Peter Miles, Kevin Stoney. One story each. Their only/last appearances in the whole series. What?!

But I must say, once Gan’s dead and Blake’s come back from his weird sojourn on the living planet with the English-speaking chicken-lizard-lady and Servalan’s double-crossed (or is it triple-crossed?) New Travis, and the Liberator has ram-raided the Federation, things begin to steadily improve.

To start with, there’s Robert Holmes’ first contribution to the show, Killer. It’s got a fabulous Saturday night vibe: you know where you are, then you’re surprised, then there’s a race against time and a twist and even a surprising, tragic ending that no amount of silly flappy PVC tabards can undermine. After Hostage, about which we will not speak, comes a story which is almost a reversal of Killer: there’s an old ally of Avon’s, and certain death in the offing. The Liberator crew could fly away to safety, but instead they battle on to the last second to demonstrate what ideals they hide beneath their chilly exteriors. It’s got pace, it’s got backstory, it’s got mad staring eyes: excellent.

The remainder of the series takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, at least once a week. We have the production team writing to the show’s strengths and just a little beyond the budget: best of all, Servalan and Travis going seriously off-message. By this point, we know who everybody is and what they want, but we don’t know what they’re going to do about it.

Voice from the Past, hardly the best story, is still full of surprises. Blake’s gone mad, baddies have gone good, there’s a sort of Bonfire Night guy speaking with a weird unpredictable accent: who can you trust? Nobody, it seems. Servalan becomes a cinematic image, which feels very 1984. The watcher was Travis all along. The pace is fast and the style is totally unpredictable.

And if you’ve been wondering how to peg me as Blake’s 7 fan, it may help to know that I don’t think anything will ever match up to Gambit

By this point, the crew are actually going somewhere again. Sometimes unwillingly, yes, but they’re on the move, making plans, even making plans for after. It’s not drowning in continuity – to be frank, I couldn’t tell you what Servalan’s agenda was from one week to the next – but we have a destination.

We also have The Keeper, which is appalling but at least in an interesting way. If you can’t enjoy a ranting Bruce Purchase as a yellow Visigoth in a mauve leather miniskirt (you should have heard me gasp) then really you must shun this era in television history. Go and read Tolstoy instead.

But ultimately there is a season finale, in an era when I didn’t think they did season finales, and the big secret everyone’s been going on about, and just when you think you know what you’re getting and you’re prepared to be disappointed, they only go and turn the tables on you. At least once before you even know you’ve done it, and then again.

It’s a brilliant cliffhanger. The Federation a ruin, Travis dead, Servalan abruptly the empress of chaos, and the freedom fighters standing by to defend everybody against goodness knows what. Should it have ended here?

Let’s find out.