Monday, 14 November 2016

Blake!






Wow! Massive typo or what? 'Bleak', this should be called. Charles Dickens had nothing on Chris Boucher. Bleak House, you say? How about Bleak Planet? You’re on a quest to find Bleak. Bleak is waiting for you. Bleak has built an entire base that’s a magnet for pain, betrayal and anger. Bleak wants to enlist you. Bleak is back and stronger than ever. Do you recognise Bleak? Does Bleak know you? Are you prepared to shoot Bleak in the tummy? Oh no, now there’s Bleak everywhere, all over the floor, all over the TV screen. Bleak death. Bleak last words. Bleak last look at the world.

Buzz. Beep. Woop. Whoosh. Cue theme tune.

Before I knew how this show began, I knew how it ended. Whether it was in TV Zone or Dreamwatch or some book about cult telly, or maybe from my Dad, who watched the show with my Mum when they first set up house together, and who once saw that woman who played Jenna in Marks & Spencer's. I knew that they all die horrible meaningless deaths in the last reel, Blake included. I always wondered how that would be shot (if you know what I mean), what the last images would suggest, what the big idea was.

My expectations were fairly low. This season, like every season of Blake’s 7, has been so variable that a graph of relative episode quality would resemble a line of jagged teeth. 'Warlord' was a turn off too, and looking back to the previous season cliffhanger didn’t inspire huge confidence, despite some fun bits like the Liberator turning into a poo, “Blake is dead” and of course, “Maximum power!” I do like that at its big dramatic moments, the show returns to Blake. He was never used quite as he should have been, but he was a good character and a good actor and he provides a pivot for Avon and Vila’s aimless characters to work on.


Gareth Thomas is brilliant here: unpredictable, dangerous, even a little scary, but still with a little sweetness. I enjoyed the plot reversals and double crosses, and it was brilliant to see David Collings in the show at last. A Doctor Who Guest Star who could have/should have been the Doctor. It would have been good to see him alongside the rest of the crew, even joining them for a few episodes. Sad to hear about Jenna’s somewhat meaningless death too – like Cally, a great character thrown away and then blown up offscreen.

And speaking of off-screen characters, what the hell happened to Servalan? Did Jacqueline Pearce have an emergency dentist appointment or something? You could say that Boucher cleverly suggests her power by hinting at her arrival throughout, that she is more suggestively omnipresent through our anticipation of her, right up to the last minute. But really, that’s bollocks. She’s the star of this show. She’s been trying to engineer a situation like this for years. Leaving her out of this coda – so we don’t know if she’s satisfied or saddened, even if she’s in power any more – is just writerly cowardice, I think.

I mean, what was going on with that Commissioner business? Was anything supposed to be made of it at all? Not even an aside from Blake to Deeva: “I’ve made contact with a Federation official. It sounds like we could rely on her. Her name’s Sleer…”



And yet it’s a great story. It's clever and gripping and packs a huge punch. In the extremes of the episode, we see all the characters come completely alive for one last half an hour, and I found Dayna’s death particularly shocking. Seeing Vila die is just horrible, likewise Soolin. Tarrant I could just about handle, if I’m honest.


It could have been told slower, perhaps. Two episodes would have made Gauda Prime a more convincing locale, and Avon’s journey a little less rushed and hard to follow. And really, even in silhouette, we should have seen Serv again. But perhaps they were aiming for a cliffhanger ending? Whatever the intention, there is a lingering feeling of unfinished business. One last conversation, one last glass of green, one last evening dress.

It was never purely a show about the central battle, Blake vs Federation: at its best, it was about Avon and Vila’s seduction by power, their inability to trust even one another, about Servalan’s obsession with Blake and then Avon, and the many triangles of resentment and desire that tied these egomaniacs together and made them fight for others (frequently in vain, it must be said). So for me, it feels as if one whole dimension of the story’s conclusion remains as yet unwritten.


But come on, – how brave, how deft, what a punch in the kidneys this story is. Perhaps what Servalan did or wanted was never the issue. Perhaps she was never more than the lip-gloss on an essentially faceless operation of power, ideology and fear. From the first episode to the last, the so-called Federation has been messing with people's heads. Nobody really has to pull the trigger. Sometimes that's the reality of fascist ideology, that people tear themselves apart in the midst of their own blind terror. Perhaps it’s the most faithful episode to the original, 1984-style episodes of the series. 

Strange, though, that we never found out what brought about the monolith of the Federation or what its objectives are. We never truly made it back to Earth. Never explored the mysteries of the Liberator, either. It’s a show full of shadowy mysteries, ambiguous motivations and unresolved questions, so perhaps the final cut away from Avon’s grin fits well.

Maybe I need to check out some of that fan fiction... 




Thank you more than most weeks to the Blake's 7 Image Library. I like how the blurry image of Max Boyce in this snap of the Radio Times listing looks like Roj Blake with an acoustic guitar. Thanks for joining me on this fluff through eternity. Next week -- my top ten...

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