Blake’s 7: Final Foray

The story so far: after a slightly bumpy first season, a second season which found a team of additional writers taking the show to new heights, and a third season which managed excellent ratings despite not featuring the title character of the show, Blake’s 7 was renewed for a fourth season, which would prove to be its final one. This was a great surprise to everyone involved, who had fully expected it to be cancelled after the third season, crafted the season finale to act as a plausible end to the story, and in the course of that finale blew up the Liberator, the starships our heroes had flown since early in season 1. Terry Nation, the show’s creator, had gone to the US to take up a scriptwriting job in Hollywood, but the BBC wanted one more season and so someone had to pick up the slack and perform a thorough revision of the show’s premise in the process.

For this season the showrunner role – to an extent that a TV show of this era could be said to had one – was arguably shared between Chris Boucher and Vere Lorrimer. Boucher, as the script editor since the start of the show, had always exerted significant oversight over the writing process, to the point where in season 1 he was effectively the unnamed co-author: Terry Nation had only intended to write a few episodes of the season but was unexpectedly tasked with the entire thing, and the only way they could make it work on schedule was for Nation to pass his first drafts to Boucher and for Boucher to whip them into shape. He’d also written the General Notes and Baffle Gab Glossary that served as the show bible for incoming writers in the production process for season 2. Nation’s exit naturally solidified Boucher’s command over the writing side of things, and this would be underlined by Boucher penning the first and last episodes of the season – slots which had traditionally been Terry Nation’s beat.

On the direction side of things, Vere Lorrimer had been a regular director for the series from the beginning, and indeed was credited as director on nearly a quarter of the series’ episodes. For this season he stepped back into a producer role, though he would step in to salvage Assassin when David Proudfoot, the episode’s director, fell ill and wasn’t able to finish it (which may explain why that episode is a bit janky).

Lorrimer was keen to shift the tone of the series, leaning into the more gritty aspects of the universe which had always been part of the show but had previously also had a significant dose of space opera camp leavening it. The destruction of the Liberator, with its fantastical technology, seemed the perfect time to update the aesthetic of the show to something a bit darker, and also perhaps made it necessary on a behind-the-scenes basis; since they’d fully expected season 3 to be the end of the show, the crew had destroyed the actual Liberator sets in the process of making Terminal, so a retcon to allow the Liberator to rebuild itself out of the smithereens it had disintegrated into wouldn’t really have helped – the interior would end up looking different anyway, so they might as well just introduce a new ship and let the Liberator‘s destruction and the death of its onboard AI Zen stand so as to not undermine the consequences of the third season finale unnecessarily.

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Blake’s 7: Third Front

The story so far: show creator Terry Nation and his loyal script editor sidekick Chris Boucher had managed to shepherd Blake’s 7 through its first season, by the skin of their teeth – Nation having unexpectedly being landed with the task of writing all the episodes, and getting through the deadlines largely by passing his first drafts to Boucher and relying on the latter to punch them up to shape. This resulted in a season which, at its best, has some actually incredible moments, and a few extremely strong episodes. The Way Back, the debut episode, has seared itself into my brain with how powerful it really is, and the season did a great job of establishing its cast (and has the best version of Travis). At the same time, at its worst season 1 Blake’s 7 is clearly struggling to find itself and work out how to do the sort of show it wants to be.

It was good enough to snag a second season for the show, at which point a broader range of writers were drafted in and the overall quality improved. Yes, season 2 has the crap Travis – but it also has the show finding its feet properly, adjusting as it went to cast members’ departures as it went. With everyone’s contracts up for renewal at the end of the season and some cast members intending to leave – including Sally Knyvette, who was finding that she didn’t have that much to do as Jenna, and Gareth Thomas – AKA Blake himself.

Not knowing who’d come back, who’d depart but leave the door open for a potential return, and who would leave forever, Nation crafted the end of the second season around an alien invasion from Andromeda – an invasion with the avowed end of total human extinction. This prompts the Liberator crew to gallantly interpose themselves between the Andromedans and their point of attack – Star One, the Federation’s isolated computer centre – in order to give the Federation time to muster a response, because despite their hated of the Federation the Andromedans were clearly an even bigger threat.

The season ended mere seconds before the eruption of an almighty space battle, which of course was a situation where any character could plausibly end up killed or separated from the others to cover for their actors’ exits. The battle would also allow for an adjustment to the status quo of the series to be made – arguably necessary, if you were going to continue the show without its title character. Would they pull it off? Let’s take a look at season 3 and find out…

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Paradys: Nice Town, Wouldn’t Want To Live There

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Tanith Lee’s epic bibliography is a daunting prospect for anyone daring to attempt explore it, but at least some effort here and there has gone into producing omnibus editions of significant works by her. Overlook Duckworth have produced The Secret Books of Paradys, a fat compilation of the series of books Lee penned set in the titular city. Paradys (or Par Dis, or Paradis, or Paradise – its name varies between tales and sometimes within them) is a sort of gothic funhouse mirror take on Paris, and Lee’s Paradys tomes tend to be divided into notional colour-coded books which each offer a different story of the city. Originally published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, these are stories of horror, fantasy, and eroticism unfolding in a setting close enough to the real world to feel historical but counterfactual enough to feel fantastic. That all sounds like great fun in principle, but how’s the execution?

The Book of the Damned

This comprises the first three colour books of Paradys – each a separate novella with some themes in common with the others. Our introduction to Paradys comes in the novella Stained With Crimson, constituting Le Livre Cramoisi, narrated by Andre St Jean, a struggling writer who maintains a foothold in high society thanks to his friend and occasional lover Philippe. One day, returning home from a seance at Philippe’s mansion, Andre is accosted by a tattered man in the street, who gives him a ring with a magnificent red gemstone set in it, carved with the likeness of a scarab. Before Andre can enquire too deeply about it, the man flees, pursued by a horseback rider chasing him with dogs.

Philippe believes the ring belongs to society hostess Antonina Scarabin, and drags Andre along to one of her salons, but she denies that it has anything to do with her. However, the fateful meeting has now happened: Andre has become passionately obsessed with Scarabin, whose motivations and desires are maddeningly obscure. Over the rest of the novella we follow a strange trail of bloody killings, morbid internments, and shifts in identity – including Andre becoming Anna and Antonia becoming Anthony through some curious deaths and rebirths – and strange hints of vampirism creep about the edges, but the full implications of what we are reading are hard to grasp.

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