Blake’s 7: The Way Back, Space Fall, Cygnus Alpha

Back in January 1978, I was in my last year in primary school, coming up to my eleventh birthday; and Blake’s 7 started, the story of a group of desperate future freedom fighters battling against the evil Federation. I see that there is now a new version being webcast, and as soon as I can work out how to download these and convert to MP3s for easy listening, I’ll be onto it. (Technical assistance on this gratefully accepted.) (Though they are by Ben Aaronovitch, so not sure how excited I can get.)

But meantime I sat down and re-watched the first three TV episodes from 1978. After getting over my shock at how young they all look (all in their 30s, I think, so younger than I am now), I found myself really enjoying it. The first three episodes are a more tightly-linked narrative than the others, as Blake gets together his team and gets control of the alien technology of the Liberator. But they feel very different from each other as well; this is not yer six-part Terry nation Doctor Who story.

The Way Back: A lot of effort goes into building up a picture of a future Earth which (if I remember correctly) we never actually return to over the next four seasons. (See the director’s reflections on this.)

There are some surprising weaknesses in it – there are longueurs that would be intolerable in today’s Doctor Who, whose episodes are about the same length. One has to ask oneself why, if the Federation holds life so cheap (the body count in this episode must surely be one of the highest for the entire series), they don’t simply kill Blake off as they do so many others. Also the mind-control aspects of the plot, which are potentially very interesting in a Philip K Dick kind of way, are simply left aside by later writers if I remember rightly. But the atmosphere of the repressive government is brilliantly conveyed; these are people that you immediately want to fight against, and you want Blake to fight against them and win.

On one minor plot point: It is difficult to imagine framing someone on paedophilia charges being treated so incidentally in a drama written today. I wonder if Terry Nation got this one from Roger Zelazny’s Today We Choose Faces, published in 1973, where the narrator(s) (one of whose names is Black) do(es) the same thing to a minor character (who turns out to be his/their love interest’s father).

Space Fall: I think the least successful of the three, in that it just involves people talking and occasionally fighting on a spaceship, or on two spaceships (once we find out about the Liberator). Having said that, we have a lot of useful introduction – Jenna, Avon and Gan all make their first appearances here (Vila having already been briefly in the previous episode). And we are slightly on tenterhooks as to who is actually going to be a regular character and who isn’t: the unfortunate Nova looks at first like he is going to be one of the Seven, but then gets suffocated by oozing gel.

The Federation officials continue to be utterly horrible, with Leylan, who seems like the nice cop, unable to restrain the nasty Raiker. And the contrast between the functional Federation ship and the alien if dusty Liberator (not yet called that) is effective.

Cygnus Alpha: This is the one where we meet the alien technology of teleportation, that point where Blake’s 7 tried to prove that it was not just aping Star Trek – the visuals were different, the psychological approach to the technology was different, though unfortunately it still worked just exactly the same as the elder version. It memorably features Brian Blessed as Vargas, the leader of the peculiar cult on the eponymous prison planet, which ends with exactly what Avon had predicted happening to him: “I would imagine that they would appear momentarily in space, and then that their atoms would be scattered to the solar winds.”

Again, it’s not clear who is going to be among the 7 until the very last moment – especially since, in fact, we are still not up to our full complement by episode’s end, with only five humans aboard the Liberator (we don’t yet know for sure that Zen counts as one of them).

Oddly enough the teleportation technology is an excuse for a significant exchange between Blake, Avon and Jenna. The two men have just discovered that they both had worked on a project on a similar technology back on earth; Jenna tells them sharply, “I didn’t work on it.” It’s almost a defining moment: the key relationship in the series is between Blake and Avon, and the women are sidelined now and mostly hereafter as well. I have written before about Terry Nation’s women characters, concluding by praising him for the introduction of Soolin in later Blake’s 7 series, but Nick Barlow pointed out that in fact she almost certainly came from someone else.

Anyway, I shall press on with these, and report back here as I do.

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1 Response to Blake’s 7: The Way Back, Space Fall, Cygnus Alpha

  1. sierra_le_oli says:

    Heh, good point! Though I don’t remember it being that creepy.

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