Blake 7

 

                    

On December 21st 1981, viewers watched in horror as almost the entire Blake 7 cast ere lured into an ambush and gunned down by Federation Guards. Despite seeing their rebellious heroes apparently killed off, fans refused to let their enthusiasms die with them. Now, at last, through the miracle of radio, the rebels are back to fight another day.

The man behind the idea was Brian Lighthill, who directed two episodes of the final tv series and, more recently, has been working in radio drama. He chose veteran Doctor Who producer Barry Letts to write the script, knowing that he had done a similar job getting Jon Pertwee back on the radio as the Doctor. Rather than trying to resolve the series cliff-hanger by making excuses ti bring everyone back from the dead, it was decided to set the story in the middle of Brian Lighthill`s era. Series Four. Barry got himself into the Blake 7 mood with a mammoth video watching session before setting pen to paper, "[it] may enable the very expert to pick a few tiny holes in it, but I hope will be acceptable to most," he says.

His story, set in between episodes four and five of the last series (Stardrive and Animals), is a race for the Sevenfold Crown, a device that gives the wearer incredible telekinetic powers to control people or even destroy planets. "The main thing was to get the characters right and their relationships with one another right," says Barry. "Avon, for instance, was in charge of the team in the last series and blake had disappeared. It was clear from the stories that he was a totally amoral man, lacking in what one normally thinks of as humanity towards the rest of his team. If he showed any kind of compassion it would have to be made clear that this was against the normal run of his character and it would have to emerge as something to his advantage.

Paul Darrow, who returns as Avon in the radio adventure, prefers to think of his character as having his own morality at all. "Avon was absolutely straight," he says, "If he said he was going to kill you, he would kill you. If he said he wasn`t, he wouldn`t. Sure, he hit women, but then what would you do to a woman who has attacked you and trying to kill you ? You would hit them, wouldn`t you ? Poor old Blake wouldn`t. He couldn`t because he was a hero figure. Avon could because he was realistic."

It may have been a 16 year gap between making the television series and the radio production, but Paul Darrow had no trouble recreating his character. What he found surprising, however, was the amount of running around he had to do on the radio. "You`re running on the spot near the microphone and you have to do it yourself because otherwise, it wouldn`t sound right - you`ve got to have all the heavy breathing."

At least paul Darrow had done some radio work before. Not so, Michael Keating who came back to play Vila. "It was quite an experience for me," he says. "In 30 years as an actor, I had never done radio before and it was a real eye opener. Of course, a restricted budget rather cuts down the special effects you can do on television, but with radio there`s no limit."

Many jokes have been made about the Blake 7 crew teleporting down to alien planets that looked suspiciously like woods or quarries in the South of England, and of painted hair dryers flying through Space, but Michael Keating points out that the series was a product of its time. "They may not look all that spectacular now, but you have to remember that colour separation overlay had only just been invented then. That meant they could put anything they liked on the picture after we`d done it. All that happened was that we turned up in the early hours of the morning at some chalk pit somewhere to do the action, then they added in the special effects afterwards. It mean`t that quite often you hadn`t the faintest idea what was going on in the story until you actually saw the episode !"

             

"You would stab at a control button and watch it fall onto the floor because it was just a chunk of plastic stuck on !" remembers Steven Pacey, who recreates his role as Tarrant in eh radio play. "The consoles we were always staring at were just holes in the plastic surface with wiring underneath them. The guns didn`t actually do anything, and then there were the collisions. The space ship was always being hit by something and we all had to lurch. If most of us lurched to the left you could guarantee there was always something lurching to the right. But it was enormous fun and we all became very good friends making it."

            

When Steven Pacey joined Blake`s 7 he though it was "just another television programme". Now, 20 years since Blake first led a bunch of criminals against the Federation, the people involved are still surprised at how fondly it is remembered. "It was a very odd thing", reflects Jaqueline Pearce who plays Servalan. "I don`t think any of us realized at the time what an effect Blake and Servalan would have on people. I discovered later that she had quite an effect on a few young menus lives. She was even very popular among the gay community. I asked a gay friend once why they liked Servalan so much - after all she is supposed to be unremittingly evil, right through. He said "because she is the kind of woman we would all like to be !"

So, has Barry Letts managed to get the characters and their relationships right in the script for the Blake`s 7 radio drama ? If you missed the Radio 4 broadcast then you can find out by listening to a BBC Worldwide cassette of the show, released January 5th.
 

Season 1

The Way Back - (Earthbound story of rebel Blake`s wrongful conviction. Rather to bleak and real - with a machine-gun massacre and references to child abuse - to act as hors d`oeuvre for the pulp antics that would follow)

Space Fall - (Blake and friends make a break from their prison ship. This should be tenser and claustrophobic but isn`t, though it`s notable for the introduction of the stony-faced Avon and the first sight of the beautiful Liberator)

Cygnus Alpha - (On a penal colony planet a barmy cult worships Brian Blessed. Standard cod,lifted by an early glimpse of Avon`s willingness to do the sensible thing - ditch Blake and makes a run for it)

Time Squad - (The 7 are completed with the recruitment of Cally.  A suspense sub-plot involving alien assassins waking from a deep sleep might put you into one.  Hardly stirring stuff)

The Web - (This is more like it - a couple of fey clones and a foetus in a tank want Blake to wipe out their rebelling work-animals.  Jenna is briefly possessed by Bluebottle from The Goon Show)

Seek-Locate-Destroy- (A solid, if spectacular, plot introduces baddies Travis and Servalan, a much needed credible opposition for Blake and his crew. It says something about the regulars that it atkes 10 minutes for them to realize they`ve left cally behind.)

Mission to Destiny - (A pedestrian murder mystery, which is nothing else at least gives Avon a chance to shine in the Miss Marple role. The central twist of the mystery is quite clever)

Duel - (An average script, very similar to an earlier Star Trek episode (Arena), pits Blake against Travis in single combat in some woods.  Oddly impressive, with good direction and some nice one-liners)

Project Avalon - (Despite the series abundance of strong women, we`re expected to be surprised that rebel leader Avalon is a slip of a girl under her parka hood. For once there`s a twist you don`t see coming)

Breakdown - (Gan goes bonkers and starts to throw things. He gets tied up. he escapes. He gets taken to space hospital. He is cured. Something blows up. Features Tony Blair as Renor)

Bounty - (Blake tries to persuade deposed leader Sarkoff to get agitating again, while space Arabs invade the Liberator. Is Jenna a traitor ? No. T P McKenna is great as the jaded Sarkoff)

Deliverance - (Meegat, Priestess of a lost civilisation, fulfils the audience`s fantasies by sinking to her knees for Avon. Features a brilliant six minute scene between Travis and Servalan, in which he learns just how ruthless she is)

Orac - (The arce is on for Orac - the most inexpensive prop in BBC history. Will Blake or Travis get to inventor Ensor first ? The explosive climax led to a flood of tears before bedtime on the first screening)
 

          

Season 2

Redemption - (The foxy space chicks who built the Liberator want it back. A rudimentary tale of capture and escape is made bearable by our curiosity about the original owners)

Shadow - (Blake`s 7 begins ! A stylish, witty tale of double-crossing and the dubious boundary between the state and illegal durg-traffickers - in this case no boundary at all)

Weapon - (A clone of Blake is used to inveigle a strange new weapon from the hands of its embittered inventor. Rather too complex, but there`s some lovely byplay between Servalan and her new aide, professional second-guesser Carnell)

Horizon - (Back on duff territory. A british imperialist allegory which plods by. Several of the Liberator crew get their tops off down a mine, but not the ones anybody would have wanted for)

Pressure Point - (Blake returns to earth to blow up the Federation`s nerve centre. Lifted by a closing sense of doom, and an insight into Servalan`s past)

Trial - (Servalan tries to get rid of Travis by having him put on trial. An astonishingly mature script, slightly diluted by the sub plot involving Blake, a living planet and Zil - a bouncing parasite from the Teletubby School of Performance Art)

Killer - (A plague strikes a Federation outpost as Blake mounts a sabotage raid. This clinks - the script doesn`t fit with the characters and their world)

Hostage - (A dull, time-killing excursion into Western cliches, as Blake races to rescue his pretty cousin. Conmtains the worst polystyrene rocks in the history of the visual media.)

Countdown - (A return to the Boys Own style of the earlier episodes, as Avon has to stop a bomb from going off alongside his dead girlfriend`s brother. Too macho and not terribly interesting)

Voice From the Past - (A bandaged figure with one eye and an incomprehensible Cockney/Mexican accent is welcomed aboard the Liberator. Who could it possibly be ? Shockingly bad. Very funny.)

Gambit - (Surgeon Docholli has gone to ground in Freedom City, the Vegas of space. Glitzy, well-plotted casino thriller with great OTT characters and wacky design)

The Keeper - (Jenna is bethroned to Gola, King of the mediaeval Goths. A send up of King lear in Blake 7 was never a good idea. Features industry standard Dark Ages big laughing and flagon waving)

Star One - (The climax of Blake`s quest takes him to the Federation`s central computer - but some blobs from a neighbouring galaxy have beaten him to it. A stirring climax, as Travis falls down a well and the Liberator goes into battle alongside Servalan against a fleet of woks, colanders and other kitchen implements)
 

                          

Season 3

Aftermath - (Post-Blake the series shifts gears and becomes sexier, faster and a lot more fun. Avon, stranded on a planet of spear-carrying extras, is kissed awake by the gorgeous Dayna and runs slap bang into Servalan - "Our meeting is the most unlikely event that could happen; therefore we meet" - for some cracking scenes.)

Powerplay - (Vila and cally are picked up by the Chengan, space nurses who just want to `help` people, while Avon and Dayna returns to the Liberator to find it in the hands of Federation troopers. Another example of the series at its best)

Volcano - (Servalan`s on the move, threatening a volcanic planet inhabited by brainwashed pacifists. Logically flawed and not terribly good)

Dawn of the Gods - (A truly dumb script - the Liberator is sucked through a black hole and on to an artificial planet where Avon and Tarrant are set to work doing sums and Cally is forced to watch the Landscape Channel)

The Harvest of Kairos - (This stinks - but it`s so jolly and OTT you can`t help but love it. The hunky Jarvik - a real man given to lines like "Woman, you`re beautiful" - runs the Liberator to ground on a planet inhabited by a deadly creature that resembles an overstuffed Hoover bag)

The City at the Edge of the World - Vila gets lucky at last, and scores with a glam space pirate. A bit twee, but there are some nice conceits, with Colin Baker`s stratospheric performance as Bayban the Butcher the highlight.)

Children of Auron - (In which we discover that cally`s mystical home planet resembles nowhere so much as Luton Airport. Servalan`s attempt to clone herself and the resultant psychic miscarriage make this meatier than it could have been)

Rumours of Death - (Avon returns to earth to avenge the death of his girlfriend, and finds things aren`t quite as simple as he thought. A key epsiode written and played with rare flair.)

Sarcophagus - (Psychedelic, poetic entry - basically a stuck lift story - from acclaimed fantasy novelist Tanith Lee. A treat for the dedicated, as the characters, trapped by the spirit of a long dead alien, get to interact on a more significant level than usual)

Ultraworld - Most famous for the sound effect sampled by the Orb. Also remembered for the scene in which Tarrant and dayna are urged to have sex by the inquisitive alien servants of a giant brain. Tosh.)

Moloch - ("Women, drinking and inflicting pain" - the hobbies of the Federation`s lost Ninth Legion, who stumbled upon the last relic of an ancient race ; a super-advanced photocopier. rather lame, although if you like women in Gloria Vanderbuilt jeanswear this is the one for you.)

Death-Watch - (Tarrant`s brother is picked to fight a phoney one-man war that`s been rigged by Servalan and will be televised direct to people`s minds. Some reflective moments raise it above the average.)

Terminal - (Avon takes the Liberator to a distant planet in response to amysterious summons. As the net tightens around the characters - and a couple of them won`t be teleporting anywhere after this - we realize just how much we`ve come to care.)
 

          

Season 4

Resuce - The crew are rescued from Terminal by sassy salvage man Dorien - but is he all he seems ? Well no. Establishes the series flashy new stylr to great effect)

Power - "That was alwyas the answer for a man", Another macho fantasy, as Avon gets involved in a war of the sexes on his own doorstep. Features some incredible being knocked out acting from Paul Darrow.)

Traitor - (The mysterious Commissioner Sleer is up to dark deeds on the waterlogged planet Helotrix. Who could this diminutive shaven-headed purple-mascaread beauty possibly be ? A sterling boys war story ,with real kick)

Stardrive - (The Space Rats, a psychopathic motorbike gang, have got their hands on Barbara Shelley and a star drive that Avon could really do with. Not good, but hard to dislike because of its sheer nerve)

Animals - (Dayn`s old teacher Justin is having problems with his genetically augmented pets. Not half as bad as you`ve been told but still terrible)

Headhunter - (A robot steals its creator`s head, swaps it for its own, and big hugs his wife to death; the first stop in a computer plot to take over the universe. palpable nonsense.)

Assassin - ("Utilizer to Cancer - Domo - the - 9th - 5 subjects" - a cryptic message that leads the crew of Scorpio to a galactic slave auction and an encounter wth Cancer, the assassin of the title. Some of the series best dialogue, and a sky-high death scene from cancer)

Games - (A federation mining agent is double-crossing everyone with his suuper-advanced computer games. Super-advanced for 1981, that is - after this, you`ll believe a ZX Spectrum can kill)

Sand - (Rather spoilt by its title, but this tale of doomed romance between Servalan and Tarrant on a planet of blood-sucking dust is another knockout script from Tanith Lee. You`ll expect Servalan to sing The Man That Got Away at the end.)

Gold - (A fantastic, twist-packed story, as the Scorpio crew team up with Roy Kinnear to steal black gold from the Federation. This is the direction the series could have gone in had it continued.)

Orbit - (It`s swap shop time for Avon, as boffin Egrorian offers his tachyon funnel in exchange for Orac. Is there a catch ? Yes. John Savident excels as Egrorian, I say he excels as Egrorian)

Warlord - (Avon decides to invite just about everybody to his secret base. It all ends in tears when Tarrant falls for New Wave diva Zeeona, daughter of lopy warlord Zukan.)

Blake - (An unforgettable climax - as anything that can go wrong does go wrong - by this point, Avon`s been let down so many times he`s got a bit too jumpy. Nice to see Blake`s toughened up a bit. The series ends in bitter irony.)

      

 


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