Blakes 7 – the flawed but awesome BBC Sci-fi series from the 1970’s

Written on 22 December 2019. Edited 03 Dec 2021 & 28 Dec 2023

There was a series back in the 1970’s on BBC TV called Blakes 7. It was horribly under-budget for a sci-fi series as it inherited its budget from the cop show it replaced. Blakes 7 was a flawed but awesome series. It should have been so much better than it was, it was always about the potential it had, rather than what it actually achieved.

Blake was the leader, and clearly a psychopath. Avon, the computer expert, second in command. Gan, the muscular sensitive one. Villa, the clown. Jenna, ex-pirate, female ship pilot. Cally, a telepathic rebel. The Blake actor left after season 2. There never were 7 of them, as they counted the ship computer “Zen” as one of the 7, handy that. The “baddy” was Travis of the dystopian Federation. Travis had a big eyepatch and a bionic arm. The story goes that Blake was responsible for mangling Travis, hence Travis and his vendetta. Travis’ boss is called Servalan. She was acted by Jacquline Pearce, quite badly at first, but she got better. Servalan was a sort of dystopian Margaret Thatcher and apparently a lot of men fancied her for her bossy ways.

Blake, Avon, Gan, Villa and Jenna get themselves a spaceship by luck, that they call the Liberator, usefully this super ship is found floating deserted in space as they pass it in a prison ship heading for a prison planet. Yes, Blake and the others had been very naughty, so the Federation said, and they are being sent away for life. The ship has all the mod cons: teleport, swanky guns, a stroppy main computer, a big pulsating green bulb on its behind… which was probably the propulsion somehow. In the “abandoned ship floating in space” stakes, they did very well.

Recently I sat and watched all four series again with my wife, who is an actress. I’ve watched it so many times, but this time it was with new eyes.

Series 1 was subject to a lot of bad acting and lack of budget.
Series 2 the actors were getting into their roles, there was clearly more money.
Series 3 unfortunately there was now more money but the actor lineup had changed and shifted the dynamic.
Series 4 more money but actors still trying to get into character roles and a big Star Wars/Alien influence, Paul Darrow turned the Avon character upto 11.

The best actor was clearly Paul Darrow and he held onto the character very well until series 4 when he suddenly became larger than life. Back in the day we all loved it but seeing it now you can see that series 4 had lost the plot. At the end of series 3 they destroyed the model of the Liberator for a big finally. Nobody was expecting series 4 and they found themselves lacking a spaceship. The result was Scorpio, a nuts-and-bolts Alien style spaceship, much less swanky than the Liberator. They also ended up with a base, called Xenon Base, less flying model spacecraft badly then.

Most of the series involved actors getting into the roles and as they got there, the dynamics changed again. And the Travis season 2 actor was just so bad, he never nailed it. It seems that Brian Croucher had not seen the Travis season 1 character by Stephen Greif when he took over in season 2. Brian refused to have his face half covered by the eyepatch as it would ruin his looks! So he had a silly cut down one. Funny how, with the full eyepatch, Stephen looks more handsome! It is a shame Stephen only played it for the first season, it was at first a tennis injury that took him out, followed by other acting commitments. He was a capable actor and held the Travis role well. In contrast, Brian is sometimes so bad that one has to laugh out loud. I’ve seen Brian on stage and he can actually act, I don’t know why he was so bad as Travis.

Gan was written out fairly early in Season 2. Then Jenna left at the end of season 2 and then Cally left at the end of season 3. They were replaced by two others, Tarrant and Dyna. These two others never did really fit. They also got a portable “computer brain” at the end of season 1: Orac. Both Zen and Orac were voiced by Peter Tuddenham. Handy, 1 actor for two characters. Many other actors appeared in Blakes 7 for little roles, notably Colin Baker did a very good baddy in one episode, also in that episode was Carol Hawkins and Valentine Dyall. Aside from that, many jobbing actors of the time turn up in it, faces you’ve seen in the Professionals, The Sweeny, Coronation Street etc. Brian Blessed tries to out “luvie” with Gareth Thomas (Blake) in season 1 episode 3, both stage actors, they really ham it up big time, trying to out bellow each other. John Savident was in a few episodes and is clearly loving all the theatrics.

Blakes 7 was basically “cowboys and Indians in space”, you can see that Paul Darrow was delighted to be running about like a cowboy. I’ve seen him talking on YouTube and he said he had the gun set just so for a “fast draw”. You see him loving all the gun stuff. I always find it amusing how his hand hovers over the “ray gun” like he’s going to cock the gun, ready to pull the hammer back doing his cowboy impression.

Really though, the biggest star was the Liberator, which, in the 70’s was the sexiest spaceship ever flown badly in an effects studio. It remained sexy for a long time, until it looked outdated, a bit like the Interceptor Special in Mad Max.

For me it took many years and many re-watchings to fully get over Blakes 7. I found it much more influential than Star Trek or Star Wars. They lacked money for special effects and concentrated more on characters and story. As a kid and a young adult the effect was immense. Much like the effect Biggles books had on me. Of course it influenced my writing, and my action adventure novel Burning Wolfhound, is heavily inspired by Biggles and Blakes 7.

Blakes 7 is a dystopian future with a totalitarian dark federation ruling the galaxy. Blake is a rebel who is fighting for freedom. He’d be called a terrorist today. When I was young I never thought the world would actually become that dystopian future.

Links

Here is a fun article which says a lot of what I worked out for myself: 10 Things You Never Knew About Blakes 7