Tenshot: Blake’s Seven
A few weeks ago, British actor Paul Darrow passed away. Darrow had a long career but what he was most famous for was the role of Kerr Avon, the anti-hero who became the breakthrough character of Blake’s Seven, the best sci-fi series most of you have never heard of.
Oh, ten thoughts? Yeah, I got ten thoughts on Blake’s Seven:
- It is unfortunate that you can not find this series in America as the BBC has never seen fit to release the DVDs in Region One. I bought a region-free player specifically so I could watch Blake’s Seven (among other things). I’m sure there are streaming options or YouTube or whatever. Whatever journey you need to take to watch it, it’s worth it.
- The series was created by Terry Nation, most famous as the creator of Doctor Who‘s infamous Daleks. The series shares a lot of actors, directors and writers with classic Who but was far more serious and adult. It was one of my late sister’s favorite shows.
- The premise? Far in the future, humanity has spread out to the stars but is ruled by a totalitarian regime called the Federation. [Spoiler Warning for Episode One] The eponymous Blake was a former dissident, tortured and conditioned to become an ideal citizen. He breaks his conditioning and is exiled to a prison planet. On the way, he and several other criminals capture an incredibly advanced spaceship and use it to fight against the Federation.
- The series was one of the earliest to play with moral ambiguity. The heroes are not perfect or some kind of heroic ideal. They are flawed lawbreakers united in a common purpose. They often make bad decisions or morally compromised decisions but you can understand why they make them.
- Which brings us to the enigmatic Avon, who quickly became the most popular character on the show. Avon is cynical, cunning and focused on becoming wealthy. But he occasionally hints at more complex motives, almost idealism at points. We never really find out what makes him tick, but he remains fascinating.
- No mention of Avon is complete with talking about Michael Keating’s Vila, one of the other criminals who stayed with the crew for the entire duration. The wordplay between Avon and Vila is one of the best parts of the show.
- Blake also remains a powerful character throughout the show (even when he’s not present). His hatred of the Federation and his determination to destroy it begins to edge into fanaticism. How the series deals with this is one of its highlights.
- The special effects are OK for their time but are not up to modern standards. The second season, in particular, suffers quite a bit from budget tightening as the sets get tiny and the incidental music disappears. It didn’t really bother me too much but might be off-putting for some. If you don’t mind the production values on classic Doctor Who, you won’t mind them on Blake’s 7.
- You may not have heard of Blake’s 7 but you’ve felt its influence in shows like Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9 as well as any other series that incorporate numbers into their title. Moral ambiguity, anti-heroes and dark themes all flowed from the place where Blake’s 7 broke the dam. It was also an early series to have numerous women in critical roles, all the way down through the supporting cast.
- I’ll just warn you right now: the last episode is a punch in the gut.