Next month’s Speakeasy is our longest yet, and it’s the very definition of nerdgasm–a three hour exploration of seventies SF classic Blake’s 7.
Wait, where are you going? Some shows are worth the effort, and Blake’s 7 merits a deep-cut exploration. The show is one that’s divided people for many years. Fans remember it fondly as a morally ambiguous, darkly political show that showed how rebels can be as damaged as the regimes they seek to overthrow. Critics, however, can only see a screamingly camp, wildly derivative piece of schlock with shoddy, wobbly sets, terrible costumes and awful special effects.
Well, here’s the thing. Blake’s 7 is both. It’s a show that no-one can really successfully agree on, because over its four seasons it tried to be so many different things.
With the benefit of hindsight, trying to make wide-screen space opera on a cop-show budget is always going to be problematic. That was a hurdle that Blake’s 7 never successfully cleared. It’s cheap-looking, stagy, slow-paced and worryingly sexist. Mind you, the limitations of the production techniques of the time are as much to blame for that as any flaws in the writing or acting.
It’s also a show that was unafraid to take risks, regularly killing off central characters and putting women front and centre as star pilots, gunfighters and the President of the Federation. It also, famously, destroyed the spacecraft that served as one of its most iconic images. Star Trek wouldn’t try that until the third movie, well after the original series. Brave, certainly. Foolish? Well, the show’s notoriously uneven final season provides plenty of evidence that the destruction of the Liberator was a blow from which the show never recovered. The title character of the show is absent for 20 episodes. Blake’s 7 is not a show that does things by the numbers.
It’s very easy, once you start rewatching the show (and the whole thing is available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube) to find both astonishingly shabby writing, plot holes you could fly a Federation pursuit ship through and scenery-chewing at Brian Blessed level (especially when Brian Blessed is in an episode). But, at the same time, you can find heartfelt, intelligent and exciting work from writers, directors and actors who knew what it took to get the best out of a budget that was screwed to the floor in terms of both money and time. Binge-watching the show is an exercise in frustration, unexpected (and probably unintentional) humour and jaw-dropping non-sequiturs. But when everything comes together, when that cliffhanger bites or it looks like the end for the crew, there’s just something about Blake’s 7 that keeps pulling you back.
There have been rumours of remakes and reimaginings for years. Respected action director Martin Campbell is enthusiastic in his support for the franchise. Done right, Blake’s 7 could do a Battlestar Galactica, transcend it’s past and become a new modern classic. Here at Excuses And Half Truths, we’re fans of the show despite (or possibly because of) its shortcomings.
In the buildup to our epic Speakeasy at the end of the month, welcome, Readership, to Blake’s 7 month.