Blake’s 7

 

Highlights

  • Science fiction show that ran for 4 years between 1978-1981
  • Series is set in a future age of interstellar travel
  • Created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks for the television series Doctor Who
  • Popular UK TV show, watched by over 10 million viewers each episode
  • Starring- Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette & Jan Chappell

 

Blake’s 7 (sometimes styled Blakes 7) is a British science fiction television series produced by the BBC. Four 13-episode series were broadcast on BBC1 between 1978 and 1981. It was created by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks for the television series Doctor Who. The script editor was Chris Boucher. The main character, at least initially, was Roj Blake, played by Gareth Thomas. The series was inspired by various fictional media, including Robin Hood, Star Trek, Passage to Marseille, The Dirty Dozen, Brave New World and classic Western stories, as well as real-world political conflicts in South America and Israel.

Blake’s 7 was popular from its first broadcast, watched by approximately 10 million in the UK and shown in 25 other countries. Although many tropes of space opera are present, such as spaceships, robots, galactic empires and aliens, its budget was inadequate for its interstellar theme. Critical responses have been varied; some reviewers praised the series for its dystopian themes, strong characterisation, ambiguous morality and pessimistic tone, as well as displaying an “enormous sense of fun”, but others have criticised its production values, dialogue and perceived lack of originality, with broadcaster and critic Clive James describing it as “classically awful”.

A limited range of Blake’s 7 merchandise was issued, and books, magazines and annuals published. The BBC released music and sound effects from the series, and several companies made Blake’s 7 toys and models. Four video compilations were released between 1985 and 1990, and the entire series was released in videocassette format starting 1991 and re-released during 1997, and as four DVD boxed sets between 2003 and 2006. The BBC produced two audio dramas during 1998 and 1999 that feature original cast members and broadcast by Radio 4. Although proposals for live-action and animated remakes have not been realised, Blake’s 7 has been revived with two series of audio dramas, a comedic short film, and a series of fan-made audio plays.

Four series of thirteen 50-minute episodes were made, and first broadcast in the United Kingdom between January 1978 and December 1981 by BBC1. They are set in the third century of the second calendar (this is mentioned in associated publicity material, not in the series) and at least 700 years in the future. Blake’s 7‘s narrative concerns the exploits of political dissident Roj Blake, who commands a small group of rebels against the forces of the totalitarian Terran Federation that rules the Earth and many colonised planets. The Federation uses mass surveillance, brainwashing and drug pacification to control its citizens. Blake was arrested, tried on false charges, and deported to a remote penal colony. En route, he and fellow prisoners Jenna Stannis and Kerr Avon gain control of a technologically advanced alien spacecraft, which its central computer Zen informs is named LiberatorLiberator‘s speed and weaponry are superior to Federation craft, and it also has a teleportation system that enables transport to the surface of planets. Blake and his crew begin a campaign to damage the Federation, but are pursued by Space Commander Travis—a Federation soldier—and Servalan, the Supreme Commander and later Federation President.

The composition of the titular “seven” changes throughout the series. The initial group—Blake, Vila, Gan, Jenna, Avon and Cally—included Zen as the seventh member. At the end of the first series, they capture a supercomputer named Orac. Gan is killed during the second series, after which Blake and Jenna disappear and are replaced by new characters Dayna and Tarrant. At the start of the fourth series, Cally dies and is replaced by Soolin. After the destruction of Liberator, the computer Zen is replaced by a new computer, Slave, onboard their new commandeered ship Scorpio.

While Blake is an idealistic freedom fighter, his associates are petty crooks, smugglers and killers. Avon is a technological genius who, while apparently motivated by self-preservation and wealth, consistently acts to help others. When Blake is separated from his crew, Avon becomes commander. At first, Avon believes the Federation has been destroyed; he becomes tired of killing, and seeks rest. However, by the middle of the third series, Avon realises that the Federation is expanding again, faster than originally realised, and he resumes the fight. The BBC had planned to conclude Blake’s 7 at the end of its third series, but a further series was commissioned unexpectedly. Some changes to the programme’s format were necessary, such as the introduction of a new spacecraft, Scorpio, and new characters, Soolin and Slave. Blake’s 7 was watched by approximately 10 million people in the UK and was broadcast in 25 other countries.

Series creator Terry Nation pitched Blake’s 7 to the BBC as “The Dirty Dozen in space”, a reference to the 1967 Robert Aldrich movie in which a disparate group of convicts are sent on a suicide mission during World War II. This influence shows in that some of Blake’s devotees are escaped convicts (Avon, Vila, Gan and Jenna). Blake’s 7 also draws much of its inspiration from the legend of Robin Hood. Blake’s devotees are not a band of “Merry Men”. His diverse crew includes a corrupt computer genius (Avon), a smuggler (Jenna), a thief (Vila), a murderer (Gan), a telepathic guerrilla soldier (Cally), a computer with a mind of its own (Zen) and another wayward computer (Orac). Later additions were: a naive weapons expert (Dayna), a mercenary (Tarrant), a gunslinger (Soolin) and an obsequious computer (Slave). While Blake intends to use Liberator to strike against the Federation, the others are often reluctant soldiers—especially Avon. Blake and Avon’s clashes over the command represent a conflict between idealism and cynicism, emotion and rationality, and dreams and practicality. Similar conflicts occur between other characters; the courage of Blake and Avon compared with Vila’s cowardice, or Avon and Jenna’s scepticism of Blake’s ideals compared with Gan’s unswerving loyalty, Blake’s mass murdering methods compared with Avon’s targeted and less destructive methods.

Script editor Chris Boucher, whose influence on the series increased as it progressed, was inspired by Latin American revolutionaries, especially Emiliano Zapata, in exploring Blake and his devotees’ motives and the consequences of their actions. This is most evident in the episode Star One, in which Blake must confront the reality that in achieving his goal of overthrowing the Federation, he will cause chaos and death for many innocent citizens. When Avon gains control of Liberator, after Blake’s disappearance after the events of Star One, he uses it initially to pursue his own agenda, such as avenging his lost love Anna Grant. Later, Avon realises that he cannot escape the Federation’s reach and that he must, like Blake, resist them. In this respect, by the end of the fourth series Avon has replaced Blake.

Classic films, such as the Western The Magnificent Seven, were an important influence upon Blake’s 7. Chris Boucher incorporated lines from Westerns into the scripts, much to the delight of Paul Darrow, an enthusiast of the genre. The final episode, Blake, was heavily inspired by The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidBlake’s 7 also drew inspiration from the classic British dystopian novels Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and When the Sleeper Wakes by H. G. Wells. This is most evident in the nature of the Federation, whose methods of dealing with Blake in the first episode, The Way Back, including brainwashing and show trials. These are reminiscent of the way in which the USSR dealt with its dissidents. Explorations of totalitarianism in the series are not confined to the Federation — totalitarian control through religion (Cygnus Alpha), genetics (The Web) and technology (Redemption) are also portrayed. Such authoritarian dystopias are common in Terry Nation’s work, such his Doctor Who story, Genesis of the Daleks.

Loyalty and trust are important themes of the series. Avon is presented with several opportunities to abandon Blake. Many of Blake’s schemes require co-operation and expertise from others. Characters are often betrayed by family and friends, especially Avon, whose former lover Anna Grant is eventually revealed to be a Federation agent. The theme of loyalty and trust reaches its maximum during Blake and Avon’s final encounter in the last episode (Blake); Blake, by now very paranoid, has been masquerading as a bounty hunter collaborating with the Federation as a front for his activities in recruiting and testing potential allies in the struggle, and this causes Avon and the others to mistrust him when Tarrant accuses Blake of betraying them; an ironic miscommunication between Avon and Blake precipitates the disastrous events that conclude the episode. If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified by the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis and his superior, the beautiful but ruthless Supreme Commander Servalan, represent Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The series is set in a future age of interstellar travel and concerns the exploits of a group of renegades and convicted criminals. Gareth Thomas played the eponymous character Roj Blake, a political dissident who is arrested, tried and convicted on false charges, and then deported from Earth to a prison planet. He and two fellow prisoners, treated as expendable, are sent to board and investigate an abandoned alien spacecraft. They get the ship working, commandeer it, rescue two more prisoners, and are joined by an alien guerrilla with telepathic abilities. In their attempts to stay ahead of their enemies and inspire others to rebel, they encounter a great variety of cultures on different planets, and are forced to confront human and alien threats. The group performs a campaign against the totalitarian Terran Federation until an intergalactic war occurs. Blake disappears and Kerr Avon then leads the group. When their spacecraft is destroyed and one group member dies, they commandeer an inferior craft and a base on a distant planet, from which they continue their campaign. In the final episode Avon finds Blake and, suspecting him of betraying the group, kills him. The group is then shot by Federation guards, who surround Avon in the final scene.

Interior spaceship sets and other indoor scenes were filmed at the BBC Television Centre, Shepherd’s Bush in London. For indoor complexes, such as bases or command center bunkers, filming often took place in local power plants and water turbine stations. Location shooting was also extensive with shooting occurring mostly in southern England. Notable location shots include episode eleven, of the first season, “Bounty”, where the production was filmed at Quex Park in Kent. The Waterloo Tower in Quex Park was ex-president Sarkoff’s residence in exile.

The series also used Betchworth Quarry as the surface of an alien planet and Wookey Hole Caves as the site of an alien mine. Additional location shooting took place at Black Park, New Forest, South Bank, Camden Town and the now demolished Wembley Conference Centre.

Blake’s 7‘s theme music was written by Australian composer Dudley Simpson, who had composed music for Doctor Who for more than ten years. The same recording of Simpson’s theme was used for the beginning titles of all four series of the programme. For the fourth series, a new recording was made for the closing credits that used an easy listening-style arrangement. Simpson also provided the incidental music for all of the episodes except for the Series One episode “Duel” and the Series Two episode “Gambit”. “Duel” was directed by Douglas Camfield, who had a grudge against Simpson and refused to work with him, and so Camfield used library music. Elizabeth Parker provided the music and sound effects for “Gambit”. Blake’s 7 made considerable use of audio effects that are described in the credits as “special sound”. Many electronically generated sound effects were used, ranging from foley-style effects for props including handguns, teleport sounds, spacecraft engines, flight console buttons and background atmospheres. The special sounds for Blake’s 7 were provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop composers Richard Yeoman-Clark and Elizabeth Parker.

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