East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Pulp & Politics: Blake’s 7


The joys of Youtube.
I’ve spent the last few nights watching old episodes of the BBC’s Blake’s 7, a space opera series that aired between 1978 and 1981, and that was never distributed in my country.
And I must say I’m positively impressed.


Because it’s an old show, and produced on a very short and frail shoestring budget, but what the heck, it’s good fun and great storytelling.

The basic concept in a nutshell: in the far future, humanity spread through the galaxy and Earth is the core of a tyrannical Federation that uses drugs, brainwashing, torture and death to preserve the status quo. Blake was a leader of a dissident movement, and through various misadventures ends up on a ship carrying prisoners on a prison planet.
The transport chances upon an alien ship adrift in interstellar space, and when the skeleton crew sent on board disappears, the captain decides to send on board a prisoners boarding party, to act as miner’s canaries. Blake and his two companions survive the defence systems of the ship and run away with it.

Now, think about a cliché in space opera, and you’ll find it in Blake’s 7.
But it’s not the pieces that make the show that count, but the way in which they are assembled.
When this series came out in 1978 it was obviously compared to Star Wars (the show and the movie opened the same week), but really Blake’s Federation is a lot more sinister than the Empire ever was, tracing its roots to authors like Huxley and Orwell. There is a very 1970s British sort of pessimism to the show.
As for the band of rebels, Blake’s companions would give Han Solo a run for his money, as the initial crew includes a smuggler, a corrupt engineer, a pathological thief, a murderer and a guerilla fighter.
Basically, a bunch of guys that couldn’t care less about fighting the evil Federation, stuck with a leader charismatic enough to drag them along. But Blake also comes across as a fanatic at times – he’s the good guy, but his hatred for the corrupt Federation sometimes gets pathological.

Indeed, the dialectics between idealism and cynicism are one of the main themes of the series, and make for some pretty good dialogue and characterization.
As the video I linked above rightly says, this is a mix of old style pulp adventure, space opera, politics and sarcasm, and it works like a wonder.
Also, it features one of the best bad guys ever to grace the video, Jacqueline Pearce’s Servalan.



Then ok, the effects are dismal, the whole confection is as cheap as they come, but the actors are good, the chemistry is great, and one actually gets curious about what the writers (Terry Nation first and foremost) will come up with next.

All in all, a much welcome diversion, and food for thought about matters such as storytelling, character development and dialogue.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “Pulp & Politics: Blake’s 7

  1. Lisa and I started in on Blake’s 7 this evening — we’re also convinced that it’s much deeper than the big-budget Star Wars, hands down. A pulpy, cheesy set only makes the romp so much more fun too. Enormous budgets expended for predictably larger and louder explosions only magnify the defects in sorry story lines. Blake contains excellent writing, story, chemistry and character — not to mention many episodes.
    We’re three episodes into it now and are enjoying each most thoroughly. I’m always a big sucker for all the analog devices they used in 1978, such as the enormous walkman with a huge cassette to match. Lots of large equipment.
    Mighty thanks for introducing Blake to Cinema Karavansara 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure!
      I think this series deserves to be more widely known – it is not fair that only the Brits had the opportunity of enjoying it.
      And I agree – the retro-technology adds to the fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah. good old BLAKE’S 7! Agree with every word. Servalan was the slinkiest, suavest villainess since the Dragon Lady, and Avon, brilliant, endlessly resourceful, but with his bitter, paranoid, self-destructive streak, was a great foil and adversary. One of his problems was that he was essentially a loner, and unlike the charismatic Blake, could not lead — yet in Blake’s absence he was forced into the leader’s position. And just as the Devil has all the best tunes, Avon had all the best lines. And Paul Darrow’s delivery was never less than perfect.

    “Blake can’t win. Not against the Federation. Not even with this fantastic ship. You know that. So which would you rather be? Rich? Or dead?”

    “Blake is on that planet.”
    “Servalan told us he’s not alive any longer!”
    “What? You believed her?”
    “Why should she have lied? She thought WE were all going to be dead in half an hour!”
    “Servalan doesn’t need a reason to lie. It comes very naturally to her.”

    “Vila doesn’t think much of Tarrant, does he?”
    “Ah, well. Tarrant is young, brave, and handsome. All excellent reasons to dislike him.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the Avon character is wonderfully written and perfectly portrayed by Paul Darrow. But all of the cast is spot-on, and they all have good stuff to work on.
      And Servalan… ah!


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