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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Blake’s 7: Second Insurrection

As you might remember from my thoughts on season 1 of the show, Blake’s 7 was the brainchild of Terry Nation and he ended up writing the entire first season all on his ownsome, establishing the series’ unusually dark tone for a 1970s space opera television series along with a beloved cast of core protagonists and recurring enemies. This was actually more than originally planned – the initial intention had been that he’d write the first seven episodes and a two-part finale for season 1, and the remaining four episodes would be written by other hands.

As a result of having to pen more episodes than expected, Nation had to rush it, turning in only a first draft of each script and giving script editor Chris Boucher a very free hand in script revisions, which explains why the first season is a bit shonky in places. (Apparently Bounty was especially badly affected, to the point where on set director Pennant Roberts had to improvise ways to pad out scenes to reach the target running time.)

Clearly, it was time for other hands to get involved, so on season 2 more writers ended up getting involved. In fact, Terry Nation only wrote three episodes for the season – each of which a significant tentpole episode setting up the action for the next third or so of the season – whilst Chris Boucher ended up turning in 4. (By this point Boucher, in his script editor role, had become so conversant with the series continuity that he actually wrote the terminology guide to assist other writers in churning out Blake’s 7-flavoured technobabble.) Let’s see if the additional hands boosted the quality of the series whilst retaining its consistency of tone – or whether they steered it right into a ditch.

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Blake’s 7: First Flight

Some things you don’t want to leave up to chance. Whilst all of Blake’s 7 seems to be freely available via YouTube, with no particular effort by the BBC to get it taken down, at the same time I’d wanted a physical copy of the thing just in case all that changed in the immediate future – plus, getting the proper DVDs likely meant better quality than the YouTube copies. Lo and behold, after Christmas HMV went bust (again), and in the midst of the fire sale I was able to get a boxed set of the complete series for a fraction of the usual price.

I’m going to share my thoughts on Blake’s 7 here, and like my mammoth article on Babylon 5 way back when I’m not going to flinch at dropping spoilers. If you’re averse to spoilers for a show which is now over 40 years old, then to be honest I’m not that fussed about your feelings because there’s a statute of limitations on these things, but don’t complain if you read deeper into the article and encounter spoilers.

Other sources of comparatively fresh Blake’s 7 discussion include the excellent podcast Down and Safe, featuring various professional SF authors taking it in episode by episode, but don’t get your hopes up for them to ever actually finish the damn thing – the update schedule got increasingly glacial, until their season 2 wrapup got released nearly a year and a half ago, so I suspect the odds of them actually getting to the end of season 4 are so remote as to be not worth considering. (Dear Down and Safe crew: I love your work but if you don’t want me saying mean things about your schedule, prove me wrong, mamajamas.)

A non-spoilery observation, by the way: as much as American hegemony is problematic, I am really glad that American English has given us this distinction between “series” and “seasons” in talking about television. In British English, it is the case – or at least used to be the case – that “series” was used to mean both “series” (as in the show as a whole) and “season” (as in a particular run of the show), which in retrospect is tremendously awkward because whenever you mentioned a “series finale” it was unclear whether you meant the final episode of a series ever or just the last episode of the latest run. It feels like we’ve had a bit of a sea-change lately, possibly due to the boxed set/Netflix streaming era making it more common to consume TV by the season and so much of the fodder for that coming from America.

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