Blake’s 7 is something I got into about six months ago and I can’t stop watching it. This is seriously good television. Don’t worry about the 70s low-budget BBC visual effects or the tragic costumes because the story and the characters will suck you in and not let you go.
Gareth Thomas as Roj Blake
Paul Darrow as Kerr Aveon
Sally Kyvette as Jenna Stannis
Michael Keating as Vila Restal
David Jackson as Olag Gan
Jan Chappell as Calley
Peter Tuddenham as Zen
Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan
Stephen Greif as Travis
Created by Terry Nation (yes, the man who created the Daleks).
This review concerns the region 2+4 PAL release available in the United Kingdom on BBC DVD.
Overview (with some spoilers)
At an unspecified time in the future, Earth and many planets are ruled by the Federation, a totalitarian, oppressive regime. Series One of Blake’s 7 charts the story of Roj Blake, a former revolutionary leader. Before the series begins, he was arrested and brainwashed by Federation authorities. He is now a model citizen, unable to remember his past life until some of his former followers attempt to re-recruit him to the resistance. Their meeting is discovered, and the resistance members are massacred. Blake manages to survive, but is arrested and framed for child abuse in order to remove him from Earth. Deported to the penal planet Cygnus Alpha, he takes advantage of a situation during the eight-month voyage and takes possession of an advanced alien spacecraft. Its primary computer, Zen, names the ship Liberator, and Blake forms a crew of four other prisoners and one resistance fighter, thus giving the titular seven – Blake, Jenna (a smuggler), Vila (a thief), Avon (a computer expert), Gan (a supposed murderer), Cally (a telepathic resistance fighter from the planet Auron) and Zen.
Series One follows the crew as they sabotage several Federation facilities, steal Federation encryption devices to allow them to eavesdrop on sensitive communications, learn how to use the Liberator‘s facilities to their best advantage and clash repeatedly with Space Commander Travis, a Federation officer with a personal vendetta against Blake. Despite Blake and his crew outwitting Travis and Supreme Commander Servalan several times, they continue to lay increasingly perilous traps for the Liberator and its crew, often nearly succeeding. At the end of the season, Blake is able to obtain the advanced artificial intelligence known as Orac from under Servalan’s nose. Unfortunately, Orac immediately makes the prediction that the Liberator will be destroyed at some unspecified point in the near future and it is at this point that the series ends.
- Most scenes with Servalan. To have the head of the space-based military as an attractive, sensual woman is a somewhat risky move, but Jacqueline Pearce pulls it off magnificently. Servalan comes across as especially menacing because she’s clearly enjoying herself almost all the time – even when plotting murder.
- The concluding confrontation of the episode Project Avalon
- Most of Duel, after the rather formulaic introduction. This is the biggest Blake/Travis face-off of the first series, and it gives us an excellent insight into their respective philosophies.
- The introduction to Orac, the final episode, is rather forced due to the necessity to recap the events of the previous episode, with which it essentially forms a two-parter. While there is an arc through the entirety of the four series of the show, the last two episodes of series one are really just one long episode cut into two. Unfortunately the method chosen to recap events for people watching week by week is rather clumsy and implausible.
Series one comes on five DVDs. The first four each contain three episodes, while the fifth contains the final episode and most of the special features. Three episodes have commentary tracks featuring three people – in total, four cast members and one director contributed to the commentaries for this season. It would have been nice to have more commentary tracks, but I won’t complain about the ones we did get. They’re amusing and the cast are clearly recalling the good parts of the series production. We even get a sung rendition of the theme tune.
Sound is mono as originally recorded and the entire set is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. The episodes have apparently been digitally remastered, but they aren’t stunning. Original image quality would not have been particularly high, and the end result is comparable to that of a Doctor Who serial filmed in the same period and released on DVD.
Originality: At the time, Blake’s 7 represented a lot of new things for British science fiction. It was dark, had a strong ongoing story and contained a great deal of moral ambiguity. Watching it now, it’s still got a lot to offer. Five out of six.
Effects: Think Doctor Who during Tom Baker’s time and you get the picture. Blake’s 7 was made by the same sort of people on a similar sort of budget. The effects are sufficient to portray what is intended, but that’s about it. Even at the time, they wouldn’t have been brilliant – although probably state of the art given the limited resources available. Three out of six.
Story: There’s a lot to like. The story develops and gets deeper all the way through the series, and doesn’t finish because they obviously knew they had another series on the way. It’s driven primarily by the characters, and it makes for compelling viewing. Liberator with its extremely advanced technology could have been used as deus ex machina in many situations, but it generally doesn’t work out that way. There are enough vulnerabilities built into the design that crises can authentically be crises. Six out of six.
Acting: Most of the time, the cast do a superb job at bringing their characters to life. The show relies on strong characters in Blake’s crew and on the part of the villains, so having good actors is essential. There are a few moments when the acting falls down, but it’s usually with a guest cast member (although most of the guest cast are superb) or when delivering a particular piece of technobabble. Five out of six.
Production: By today’s standards, the costumes are quite tragic, but they are imaginative and varied which lends a great deal of interest. Like with Doctor Who, the set construction is done on the cheap and locations are often set in clay pits in Cornwall. However, everything they have is used well, and there are some excellent camera angles, editing and sound design. Five out of six.
Emotional response: This is a series which makes you care about what happens. Six out of six.
Overall: I have to give Blake’s 7 six out of six. Seminal British science fiction, and possibly the best that the BBC has ever produced.
In total, Blake’s 7 Series One receives thirty-six out of forty-two. The visual effects don’t stand the test of time, but pretty much everything else does.