Blake’s 7 is one of the BBC’s classic science fiction programs. It started in the late 70s ad ran into the early 80s for a total of four series. It was created by Terry Nation, a man who also worked on Doctor Who back when that was actually worth something. He even created one of the most iconic enemies for that franchise, the Daleks. Does this hold up as well?
We open with our protagonist, Roj Blake being called out for a mysterious meeting. He’s told that the government is controlling the population with drugs in the water & food, not the same ones that turn the frogs gay according to cranks but real ones. He’s also told that he was a leader in the resistance before he was captured and had his mind tampered with to make him a symbol for the regime. He’s skeptical until soldiers barge in and shoot the entire unarmed resistance. They take Blake prisoner and he soon finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit and en route to a prison on the world of Cygnus Alpha.
Things take a slight turn for the better when he and a pair of other prisoners, Jenna & Avon, are sent to examine a potentially dangerous ship. They manage to survive its trap and gain control over it. With a highly advanced craft at their command, Blake sees the potential of mounting a resistance against the federation while Avon thinks him a crusader and a fool. From there we follow Blake’s ragtag crew of criminals while they try and damage the federation using guerrilla tactics while evading pursuit.
The series doesn’t have much wrong with its narrative. I like the way it subverts a lot of standard sci-fi plots by simply making the antagonists competent. Blake and his crew aren’t shown as being able to match the federation. Rather, they’re shown as barely escaping them while making a nuisance of themselves. Which is an interesting take since most series like this take great pains to show you that the heroes have some chance, even if a slim one. I also like that the series manages to have a sense of fun alongside its air of futility. Which it manages by not dwelling overmuch on how little of a chance they have and by celebrating their small victories. The series is also really good at setting up interesting scenarios and challenges for the crew.
Another strong suit of the series lies in the characterisation. Blake may be a crusader, but his crew all have their own reasons for sticking around. Avon, for example, likes the rest of the crew on a personal level, but he sticks around because he wants control of the ship. The rest of the crew has motivations more along the lines of having nowhere else to go or being taken in by Blake’s idealism. Every single character has a back story that explains why they’re in the position they’re in and both Jenna and Blake get some elements of their past used in episode narratives. Even the antagonists get some moments of humanity, with Travis becoming upset over a friend of his at one point.
This is definitely the area that has’t aged well. Like with any old science fiction work, the effects are dated and the set pieces can most definitely look cheap. It holds up better than the original Star Trek but not by as much as it should, given that it came out around a decade after that series ended. The fight choreography can also come across as slow and cumbersome.I’ll give full credit that the designers clearly had ambitions and a very limited budget and I wouldn’t say the series ever looks bad.
Acting and Music
The acting varies a bit. Most of the cast is quite good. Paul Darrow is absolutely phenomenal. Gareth Thomas, Michael Keating, Jacqueline Pearce & Stephen Greif are all really good. Then you have Owen Aaronovitch & Sally Knyvette who are kind of weak. Not bad, but certainly not on par with everyone else. Dudley Simpson composed the theme tune for the series and it’s bloody amazing.
In the areas that matter most, Blake’s 7 remains a science fiction classic for good reason. The characters are interesting, the writing is superb and the cast, by and large, is excellent. If you’re a fan of really well done sci-fi and can appreciate the classics, give it a go. But if you want your sci-fi to have all the latest and most expensive special effects, it’s not going to be for you. As for me, I’d say the first series is a strong start and I’m going to give it a very well deserved 8/10.