A history of tripe: Blake’s 7

“Face painting? Seven shillings and sixpence. Coconut shy is a shilling for three balls.”

In recent years, thanks to the likes of Amazon Prime and BritBox, I’ve rewatched a fair few ‘classic’ TV shows because I can. Old Doctor Who, for example, which I would never have bought on DVD. Turns out, that as much as I loved it when I was a boy, it’s a bit shit. Seinfeld? Holds up. Battlestar Galactica (2004)? Not so much, gets lost in the weeds. The X Files? Diverting, and still great and sometimes really funny. Buffy? Still the greatest TV show ever made. Angel, on the other hand, was another show that lost its way and never quite found the spark it had in its early episodes. Members of the cast with drug problems, producers hitting burnout, and other well-known interpersonal issues.

Which brings me to Blake’s 7. Rule of thumb: any show with an apostrophe in its title is to be avoided. In January 1978, I had just turned 16 and was living in a world fairly starved of science fiction, decent or otherwise. Doctor Who, Tom Baker embarking on his fourth year in the role, was in its sixteenth season – the one with Romana the First. I was losing interest in it by then, and didn’t pay attention until Peter Davidson took over, with his, ahem, rather attractively built crew. The original Star Trek was a long time gone and the Next Generation was nearly a decade away.

This was the Long Silence, the Interregnum, and we fell upon Blake’s 7 like birds on sunflower seeds. We were prepared to overlook the following:

  • Shonky sets;
  • A title sequence that looks like literal needlepoint;
  • Abominable music played on Bontempi keyboards;
  • Incoherently pointless storylines;
  • Scripts dredged up from the bottom of the sea where they had been thrown by their despairing creator in a rare moment of self-awareness;
  • School fête quality face painting;
  • Animated special effects sequences created with paper and scissors;
  • The continual and inexplicable reappearances of the same quarry in Surrey;
  • The fact that this all came from the head of the man who came up with the fucking Daleks, the naffest of all the naff Doctor Who monsters.

We science fiction aficionados loved it in spite of all these shortcomings because the one thing it had was an interesting set of characters, a Scooby Gang thrown together by circumstances and not friendship, people who neither liked each other nor even believed in the same things. Even if they were drawn more with Crayola than painted in oils, we saw the potential in characters whose actions and motivations were unpredictable. Paul Darrow was great as Arvon, the Spock-analogue; Gareth Thomas a bit less convincing as Blake, the Kirk.

Aye, and there’s the rub. Gareth Thomas’ heart clearly wasn’t in it, and he left after two seasons, to be replaced by the slightly less wooden Rumours About Blake. It amazes me now to think that there were 52 episodes; enough, in this modern world, for five Netflix seasons.

But the really amazing thing, for me, is the way that fans of this show have continued to love it, with their cosplay and Wikis and fan conventions, their radio revivals and Big Finish productions. Actually, I suppose radio is a good home for something that looked so cheap and terrible – as long as they did something about the awful music.

Anyway, if you feel like punishing yourself, it’s on Britbox, and it is terrible.

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