Everything’s Going Our Way

The Way Back — Michael E. Briant
Blake's 7, book 1

B7

Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 is a dystopian SF television series. It originally aired between 1978 and 1981. “The Way Back,” written by Michael E. Briant, aired on January 2nd, 1978.

Roj Blake is a seemingly unremarkable member of society. Blake’s friend Ravella is determined to convince Blake otherwise.


After fasting for a day and half, Blake’s body may be almost free of the drugs that his friend Ravella insists are in the dome city’s food and water. Skeptical Blake cannot imagine why the Federation would to tranquilize its own population, but he humoured his friend. He’s also sufficiently compliant to accompany Ravella outside the dome-city, even though this is a crime.

In hidden tunnels near the dome-city, Blake is greeted by Bran Foster. Although Foster is unknown to Blake, he claims to know Blake well. A series of unpleasant revelations follow:

  • Blake’s relatives are not living on a colony world. The Federation executed them. The messages Blake receives from his relatives are faked.

  • Blake used to be the popular leader of a political resistance group until he was arrested and subjected to brainwashing. This was followed by a show trial, and more brainwashing.

  • Blake was spared because killing him might have made him a martyr to the cause. Those of his followers who were detained at the same time were not so lucky.

Foster wants Blake to rejoin the resistance, believing that Blake’s participation could convince others to join. Unconvinced by Foster’s wild story, Blake steps away to consider what he has been told. As a result, he survives the massacre that follows as Federation soldiers ambush and exterminate the rebels.

Still convinced that killing Blake would be a political misstep, the authorities frame Blake for child molestation. Although Blake’s sincere but woefully naïve public defender Tel Varon does his best to defend Blake, the outcome is predetermined. Blake is found guilty and sentenced to life on the prison world Cygnus Alpha.

Not to worry! Varon resolves to sneak out of the city himself to verify whether the tunnels exist and if they do, if any evidence of a massacre remains! Surely Blake’s freedom is merely one revelation away.

As Varon and his wife’s bodies cool, a prison ship with Blake and several prisoners who will be a large part of Blake’s life departs for the stars.

 ~oOo~

Varon and his late wife are only two of the twenty-odd people who die almost immediately after meeting Roj Blake. Attempting to help Blake (or even just meeting him) may invalidate most life insurance policies.

Even for the BBC, Blake’s 7 was filmed on a very modest budget. Sets are basic in design, and the costumes are ugly and ill-fitting. As well, the colour palette is very limited. The result is bleakly industrial, which fits with the setting of the show.

That said, when the perfectly ordinary doors open, an odd sound effect is heard. Perhaps it’s so that the malevolent bureaucrats who run the Federation know if someone is sneaking up on them. Although if they were that paranoid, they’d know better than to have loud discussions about their criminal conspiracy while the target’s defense lawyer is on the other side of a door that is in no way soundproof.

It’s not entirely clear why the obedient people walking the corridors of the dome-city, the rebels who are all killed, and the people on Blake’s prison-ship appear to be the same people. Perhaps to conceal the limited number of cast members? Federation soldiers all wear identity-concealing masks, which will no doubt make it easier for Blake and company mow the soldiers down later on.

The purpose of this episode is to introduce the viewers to the setting and to a lesser extent the recurring characters (some of whom won’t appear until later episodes). Consequently, many of the details informed viewers might expect to see in a Blake’s 7 episode are not yet present: of the eponymous seven1, only Blake gets much screen time. We meet two of his future crew, Vila and Jenna, but don’t learn much about them. That was left for future instalments.

If you’re looking for a classic example of bleak and depressing 1970s television drama, with spaceships, Blake’s 7 is probably what you are looking for.

I do not know of Region 1 versions of Blake’s 7. The show inspired other media versions, including novels (none of which seem to be in print now)

1: For various values of seven2. Indeed, for various values of Blake (the actor playing Blake left the show and so did his character.).

2: Modular arithmetic.


Comments

  • Jacob Haller

    I think that the first episode of Blake's 7 I saw was in an episode in which the titular character didn't actually appear, so the name didn't get more accurate as the series went on.

    • Roy Stilling

      Gareth Hun left the show at the end of S02. He only was persuaded to return in the very last episode, S04E13 [spoiler] ba gur cebzvfr gur punenpgre bs Oynxr jnf xvyyrq bss.

  • John S

    Anyone interested in this show is recommended to follow the MakingBlakes7 on Twitter (at least, when the person running it stops doing one of their periodic protecting of the account), which recounts the production in real-time+40 ish years. In the past couple of days it reached the point where Gareth Thomas (and Sally Knyvette) decided to leave the show after the second year. Notably, we had the following quote from Avon actor, Paul Darrow:

    'I remember Sian Phillips bumping into Gareth at the BBC bar and she said to him, “Oh Gareth, why are you prostituting your art by being in that nonsense?” From that moment on he was always complaining about the scripts and throwing his weight around.' (https://twitter.com/MakingBlakes7/status/1073672725892399106)

    This is the same Sian Phillips who would go on to shave her head for David Lynch's Dune, followed shortly afterwards by an appearance in an Ewoks film...

  • Steve Wright

    If you think the costumes are bad now, wait until season 2, when someone apparently replaced costume designer June Hudson's psychiatric medication with Folger's Crystals, just to see what would happen.

    I'm immensely fond of Blake's Seven, nevertheless - underneath all the dodgy sets and SFX, there is a lot of solid characterization and a cynical political edge; Blake's supposed idealism makes him increasingly ruthless as time goes on.

    Oh, and I can't help but mention the amateur cricket team (I don't know if they're still going) who called themselves "Blake's XI" and turned up to every match with either nine or thirteen players....

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