One of the stories waiting to be told in Blake’s 7 is that of the cosmic couturier of Fantabulo 6. I like to imagine the planet is a bit like Logopolis, only in this world – which Christopher H. Bidmead wouldn’t have dared imagine – the dusty red rock caverns (or do they have a fresher, pinker hue?) are filled with dressmakers, hunched over their pattern cutting tables, Singer sewing machines and ancient, pedal-operated looms. What do they weave all day and all night, these mysterious machinists? What could it be but the stuff of the universe. Like the Fates of ancient time, the Fantabulosians measure, colour and cut the threads of great lives. The heroes, the villains, the Vila’s of this world too, we’re all woven in the tapestry waistcoats and coat tales of their nimble fingers. It is not through coincidence that the woman who ascended to the greatest heights in the cosmos is the one who buys her wardrobe exclusively from Fantabulo. If the frock fits, wear it. Servalan – or whatever she’s calling herself this week (and is there a blog post in the fact that there are seemingly no such things as photos in the world of Blake’s 7, or is it more of a parenthetical observation sort of a thing?) has a loyalty card for the frockmasters of Fantabulo. She has shares in the place. They’ve named a public square after her.
Servalan's Pressure Point outfit, by Demi-Goddess of Design, June Hudson
It would sound mealy-mouthed to say that Servalan changes her plans as often as she changes her dress, but I would put money on the fact that she actually lets every new garment inspire her next act of galactic villainy. See her fastening the little black belt on this week’s little black, off the shoulder Bardot dress, considering the way it hugs her slender figure and complements her signature black crop, as two muscle-bound Avon lookalikes in studded leather hot pants hold up the full-length, scroll-edged mirror for her to study herself. What is this dress, this evening dress designed for the last evening in the world, trying to tell her? It’s simple, black as deep space, no froufrou or frills. Perhaps it looks like something she might wear to a funeral. But of course, it has that sexy tie around her throat, and a very daring reveal. She’d wear it to the sort of funeral where she’s in a good mood. That suggests the deaths of that pesky Scorpio crew, of course. She’s been trying to kill them for years and years, and it’s never quite come off. Time to pay a professional?
In all this time, the Federation has fallen, tried drunkenly to get up, toppled over again. Now it’s hard to tell what’s actually happening outside Servalan’s boudoir. Thankfully for the Universe, the house of Fantabulo 6 has stood proud and resolute. For a while – Season 2 – they were doing particularly good business. They even sold stuff to the Liberator crew, and they had a factory seconds outlet in Freedom City that did a roaring trade. For a while since, they’ve had to streamline their business. The Liberator crew are less fashion conscious in Season 4. Avon’s got a lot of wear out of the same studded leather outfit (it’s easily wipe-downable, and just needs a good polish with some Dubbin if he’s been out in the wet) while everybody else generally gets by on velour tracksuits with ribbed turtle-necks or (if you’re Soolin) plenty of cleavage on display. There is a chance that Blake and Jenna are hovering around, longing to join forces again, but can’t quite face being seen with them. Judging by their outfits in Season 1, however, the chances are narrow (certainly narrower than Blake’s old shoulder pouffes).
Judging by the opening of this episode, in which they gather around to listen to a suspiciously transparent message from Servalan to her hired help, Avon and his friends might well have been ordering from the Fantabulo 6 catalogue again. Tarrant’s hasn’t turned up yet (he’s still in the velour tracksuit) but Avon is in a black and silver fighting outfit, with little motifs of (I think) playing card emblems round the collar: hearts and clubs, very Avon. Soolin’s got a very restrained grey outfit with glittering beaded blue sleeve cuffs, belt and a single giant lapel: shades of Visage, reimagined for the office. Dayna is the most exciting: it’s Toyah Wilcox, doing panto but still as Toyah Wilcox.
But who is the mysterious Cancer? And why do astrological signs persist in the age of interstellar space travel?
The guest cast get the best deal from Fantabulo 6. Of course, it’s a shame that Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick were both unavailable, but a joy to see Betty Marsden in a late role. Joy overflows to see her in a dress made of mirrors and a headdress of costume jewellery and silver dreadlocks. If ever there were an origin story for the Movellans, their creator is surely Betty Marsden. Just a pity she’s not in it longer, but she is surrounded by space pirates and auction agents dressed in home-made versions of the Mission to the Unknown aliens. In fact, it is my personal canon that these are Malpha, Trantis and co. with a new look for the 1970s. She is also there for the best moment of Blake’s 7 so far:
I think, if you don’t mind, I would prefer my slave to address me as ‘mistress’…
Meanwhile, there’s a fab performance from (perhaps) the ultimate Doctor Who Guest Star, Richard Hurndall. Perhaps if he had played the Doctor in The Five Doctors with a dirty face and a brown sarong, he would have been that bit more convincing as William Hartnell. It really is a lovely performance from Hurndall, and I was totally taken in by the red herring of him as Cancer.
I didn’t think for a second it was ‘the Mighty Ajax’, with his burning eyes and – well, burning everything in fact. No, as soon as I clocked Piri the dancing girl in her spangly purple cruise chanteuse outfit, I knew what was going on, and no amount of jiggery-pokery with people being locked up and set free and locked up could throw me off the scent. At the last minute, I was proven even more right than I knew I wanted to be, as Piri emerged into the ascendant with a full Fantabulosa off-the-peg black cocktail dress with beaded black stole, mauve lippie, and a beehive like a factory chimney (I actually had to check that she wasn’t played by Mari Wilson). Having attempted to murder the helpless, over-confident, hyper-masculine (well sort of) Kerr Avon with what should have been a deadly crab, Mari Wilson is hoist on her own arachnid by super-cool Soolin (i.e. the best thing about Season 4) and dies with the wildest scream this show has ever seen. It’s a scream that comes right from the dress. It’s worth rewinding and watching again.
Star Studded: Avon's 'Killer' Outfit, by the costume superstar June Hudson
In summary: everyone was making more of an effort this week. Servalan had an actual plan, and for about five minutes she actually had Avon where she wanted him (and he looked quite pleased about it). The guest cast were fun, there was a twist, hair was high, there was a blood-curdling scream.
TLDR: It was bloody awful, but my favourite episode of this season so far. Bring on next week’s offering, and may the frockmasters never die – or the Universe itself might unravel. Or worse, grow drab and uninteresting…
Alongside my shonky photos of Radio Times listings, these two June Hudson designs were found on this blog after they were auctioned by Bonhams.
Hudson is a creative genius who helped make the golden age of BBC television look as fabulous as it did. She's still creating, teaching and modelling and you should treat yourself to a look at her web-page, here.