Devised to meet the demand for Sci-Fi after the success of the Star Wars film in 1977, the BBC commissioned Terry Nation of Dr Who fame to write an entirely new series. Although Terry Nation relocated to the US in 1980 (where he continued his successful writing career), he was responsible for the concept of Blake 7 and the entirety of the scripts for the first of four seasons (screened between 1978-1981), but only wrote for a number of key episodes for seasons two and three, and none for series four. He is probably best remembered for his creation of the Daleks from Dr Who, technological SS Officers from the future hell-bent on universal domination, the spread of their own culture and the eradication of all inferior races. In many ways Blake 7 continues this theme of fascist dystopia, and its premise is very clear and unhidden. I know very little about Terry Nation’s personal political views, but it is interesting that he was a) anti-fascist in his writings at a time when US Cold War propaganda and disinformation demanded the demonisation of the Soviet Union (and Communism in general), and b) decided to emigrate to the US – the bedrock of predatory capitalism and rightwing neo-imperialism.
Blake’s 7 is peculiarly ‘British’ in a manner not associated with the more universalistic Dr Who, and there is almost something deeply personal about its conception and construction. Its storylines and characters were far more mature than Dr Who, and in many ways brutality realistic and disturbingly reflective of the true functioning of human nature when unbridled political power and social dominance are the two key elements of existence, and individuals possess the choice either to conform or rebel. In this regard, Blake 7 is relentlessly unsettling. Made at a time when the ability to act mattered, the futuristic sets are made believable by the abilities of the cast to convince the audience that what they are seeing and hearing is all ‘real’. This is particularly important when it is remembered that Blake’s 7 was made before the rise of personal computers and the internet. For many (young and old at the time), Zen and Orac were their first glimpses of computers, and these glimpses have aged very well, still appearing fresh even to contemporary audiences. The sets were adequate and conveyed something of the ‘feel’ about what it is like to live in Britain, an intimacy completely lost with CGI and other modern equivalents. A major selling point about modern Sci-fi is that it could be ‘anywhere’. Even within the deepest and remotest of space, and regardless of the who comprised the crew (and which alien race made the ‘Liberator’), Blake 7 retains its distinctive ‘Britishness’ which is inclusive, non-racial, multicultural, and full of British intellectual vigour and brave physical endeavour.
To my mind, Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) is the true leader of the rebellion, but he chooses (like any great leader) to play second fiddle to the Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) simply because it is politically expedient to do so. The dialogue was dialectically often exquisite with storylines contained within storylines, with not all narratives explored or developed (but potentially existing to aid any required plot twists or cast replacements). It strikes me that Terry Nation fore-saw the rise of the rightwing Margaret Thatcher and her fascistic take-over of the British nation. This odious example of Toryism without morals or restraint set about dismantling the British Welfare State and essentially militarised and empowered the police to carry-out Thatcher’s aggressive and highly damaging social policies. The unions were smashed (by the police) and Britain turned into an elected dictatorship controlled entirely by the principles of US predatory capitalism. This is the state of affairs that we live in today, following 13 years of rightwing ‘New’ Labour rule, and a further 8 years of Tory (and LibDems) ‘Austerity’ (which has killed around 120,000 British people since 2010). What we have in Britain today, is the futuristic dystopia envisioned by Terry Nation, but currently mainlined and justified by a veneer of apparent democratic process. Blake’s 7 demonstrates how to rebel, suggests why we should rebel, but never quite explains or defines the nature of the rebellion in any great detail. It is ‘anti-fascist’ of course, and I would suggest the name of the ship – ‘Liberator’ – suggests that it is ‘Socialist’ in nature.