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Archive for January 27th, 2022

Since we’ve finished Doctor Who for now (we’ll watch the most recent shows as they reach DVD), Grace and I turned to watching Blake’s 7, a gift from one of my regular readers who’s enjoyed the Whovian thread.  The set was only available in Region 2, but I have a multi-region player, so it’s all good.  I’ve known about the series since the ’80s, but for some reason I never managed to catch it on PBS.  One thing that struck me immediately was how groundbreaking the series was; it may be difficult for younger folks to believe, but in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s sci-fi series were very episodic.  There were ideas and themes that ran for entire series or seasons, but it was notable when an episode even made reference to the events of an earlier episode, much less continued a big, complex story.  Blake’s 7 changed that pattern; most of the stories were still just stories, but several per season were part of a larger pattern of development.  I don’t know if he’s ever said as much, but it appears pretty clear to me that J. Michael Straczynski was influenced by it in the creation and structure of Babylon 5, which started the same way and grew over 5 seasons to one long, deeply-interconnected saga, setting a new standard in US sci-fi TV.

One of the things I love about British sci-fi is its valuation of characters and storytelling over flashy special effects, and Blake’s 7 definitely has that (though its effects are actually better than those in Doctor Who of this time period).  It’s also fun for me to see so many faces and names I recognize from “Who” in this one; chief among those names is that of Terry Nation, most famous as the creator of the Daleks, who conceived of the show and wrote every episode of the first season (another Straczynski-like feature, though Babylon 5 did that in a later season, not the first).  I was happy to see that Nation’s writing had matured and improved considerably since the ’60s; this is the Nation who gave us “Genesis of the Daleks”, not the guy who phoned in so many earlier Dalek appearances, so the quality of the first season is consistently high.  Another familiar Who name is that of the script editor, Chris Boucher, who had given us Leela (and three excellent Who adventures featuring her) the year before signing on to Blake’s 7.  Boucher’s script editor during his time on Doctor Who was Robert Holmes, who reversed the relationship by penning a number of Blake stories for Boucher.  Holmes was a good fit here; as an idealistic young man he had become a cop, but once he found out the nasty truth about policing he turned to writing, and many of his tales involve noble or charming rascals, scoundrels, anti-heroes battling corrupt authoritarian governments.  But while The Doctor is a bit of a rascal and has no use for cops or permits, Blake’s 7 takes it up a couple of notches by giving us an often-abrasive hero dedicated to bringing down the entire evil Federation, even if it means a lot of people getting hurt in the process (the entire second season demonstrates that pretty clearly); his crew, all criminals themselves (including a smuggler, a cowardly thief, and an extremely arrogant embezzler); and a stolen spaceship (it’s technically only salvaged until the actual owners try to reclaim it).  One last thing for now: among the series’ innovations was the season cliffhanger.  Until then it was highly unusual for a TV series to bait viewers back for the following season by leaving the heroes facing certain death, as in the old movie serials; Blake’s 7 did it every season.  Though it’s now de rigeur for dramatic series to do this, that wasn’t so until the Nineties; even in the Eighties leaving the viewers hanging for more than one week (the typical gap in serials such as Doctor Who) was pretty rare on both UK and US television.

I have a great deal more to say, but it’s so much I’m going to divide it up over several weeks.

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