Monday, 31 October 2016


So, after all this palaver, am I a Blake’s 7 fan? Would I wear that title, own up to it as gladly as I do ‘Doctor Who fan’, 'Victoria Wood fan' and ‘Kate Bush fan’ (worlds which seemingly overlap that of Blake’s 7 like a Venn diagram)? I’ve certainly been thinking and theorising about it for a good long while. I’ve seen every episode. I’ve even written fan fiction, if you count last week’s attempt. (Actually I did try to write Blake’s 7 fanfic at school, based entirely on four episodes I'd borrowed from Dulwich Library. It was written in the 1990s and involved cyberspace, and these two facts are somewhat connected. But I digress.)

I must say, it was a struggle to watch the show at some points, but a struggle with myself more than anything. How many times had I heard my beloved Who described as slow, sexist, badly produced tat? Elsewhere I've made a case for the Hartnell era as a series of relaxation tapes with Daleks in, for Troughton’s episodes as flawed but well-meaning attempts to depict women in strong roles, for Pertwee’s trashier SFX to be more pleasurable than CGI. I’m sure if someone said that Sarah-Jane Smith enjoys zero character progression from Irongron to Eldrad, I’d say: that’s not the point!, or, That’s a narrative gap for the viewer to complete!

It turns out that however true all of this is, watching new things that operate by familiar rules is still a mental jolt. Without a prior attachment, we don’t necessarily overlook pacing issues or see past poor special effects or fill in the gaps the scriptwriter conveniently left for us. Anything on first viewing has a different look to something re-viewed, as if we need to see it stereoscopically to really appreciate its depths and shallows. Perhaps this is more natural to Doctor Who, which was retelling its earliest stories from An Exciting Adventure by David Whitaker onwards. Quickly I thought I had the measure of Blake’s 7, even if I did have to squint at it slightly to see through the fluff and crackle of time. Then there were developments, surprises, leaps forward and backward.

I love Doctor Who, not only in spite of its flaws but because of them. I tend to think of this as a moral education. Life ain’t perfect, memories do lie, stories time to be told, ‘Nothing gold can stay’, all CGI will one day depreciate in value. But could I love Blake’s 7 in quite the same way?

'Warlord' was a bit of a test.

It really is a curate’s egg, this story, and once again all the usual flaws of Blake’s 7 are on display. Regular characters behave as if freshly invented for this story – anything from last week might as well not be canon for all Avon and co. care (what happens on Virn stays on Virn, perhaps) (except it didn’t!). Underwritten characters are massively hammed up by the cast, resulting in a cheese and ham sandwich. The women in the story have little or nothing to do. The story is fairly predictable from about ten minutes in, with any important characters conveniently dead thirty seconds from the end. Avon is having another go at Servalan that will come to nothing: Servalan is laying another trap for Avon that comes to nothing.

In the story’s favour, it should be said that Servalan’s plan doesn’t fail entirely. At the end of the story, the Avon’s Five have had their base destroyed. The antidote for the Federation’s new drug will never be manufactured. The allies from the unaligned worlds – all of whom have fabulous space hairdos – are presumably dead or extremely hacked off. I think even Orac might have been smashed up. All of this makes more dramatic resonance because absolutely nothing has happened to affect the gang’s world since Soolin came aboard. In retrospect, it makes sense that Servalan simply couldn’t find them, and once she could, she trod on them, eminently casually. It’s not a bad story for Servalan as one-dimensional supervillain, just as Soolin and Avon get a juicy fight scene and Vila gets drunk and morose when things are against him.

Dayna gets to press a few buttons. Well, I did say the character stuff was a major flaw.

The whole story is shot brilliantly. From the opening, eerie vision of doped-up citizens stamped with a barcode number, gunned down on the escalators, through the desert sands of the alien planet to the destruction of Scorpio base, the director is obviously doing everything he can with the show (and the whole season has made a determined stab at raising the show’s production values). Zukan’s vision of his daughter’s anguished face and the accusing look of Servalan are cheesy, but you can’t say they’re not trying.

Ultimately, though, there is an obstacle to my fandom. I just don’t care about the characters. Not only are they not consistent with any other stories, they’re just not very impressive or imaginative. In the midst of a huge diplomatic negotiation, Avon’s friends double-cross their most powerful ally by hiding his daughter from him: this doesn't seem wise from where anyone's sitting, pink topknot or no pink topknot. They also underestimate one of the most aggressive and nefarious men in the galaxy. No Harry Sullivan's or Barbara Wright's here, no Sapphire and Steel or Steed and Peel. The Scorpio crew are more like a collection of sit-com characters in search of a laughter track, and perhaps, yes, that does make us identify with them more than ever. They're as fallible, clumsy and motivated by sex as any of their audience. But equally there is no sense from them that anything much is at stake, whether the defence of their base or the attack on the Federation. The destruction of the base is done so easily efficiently that you wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.

Blake’s 7 reached its penultimate episode leaving me hugely unsatisfied. A show pivoting on its disreputable anti-heroes has quickly become one where the lead characters are under-emphasised and underwritten. 'Warlord' is brainless, heartless and vaguely good-looking, but I’m afraid both the show and I are ready now for its concluding episode.

But does that mean I'm not a fan? Perhaps it only reiterates my attachment to the show, my deep investment, my curiosity. Because I care about something innate and ineffable about the show, something  that's not really there in the script or onscreen, but between the two, read between the lines. I'm really curious about how they're going to end this thing and draw everything together. I'm even wondering what stories fans have told about what happens next...

Am I a Blake's 7 fan? The jury is still out...

For the penultimate time, blurry snaps of the Radio Times are by me (thanks to the British Library). Screencaps are from this excellent site (thanks to Lisa).

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