The Way Back
Underground car parks, child abuse and torture. It must be Blake’s 7.
It’s 6pm on Monday 2nd January 1978 and Wings are Number One with ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Sorry, wrong blog. It’s 6pm on Thursday 2nd January 2014 and I haven’t got a clue who’s Number One. What I do know is this: we will watch an episode of Blake’s 7, Sue will comment on it, I will note her comments down using my own unique version of shorthand, and then I’ll write them up for this blog. If we get into a heated discussion about anything, I will pause the DVD so we don’t miss anything vitally important. Or really silly.
But first things first…
Me: What can you tell us about Blake’s 7, Sue?
Sue: Well, let’s see. I can name all the characters for a start. There’s Blake, Avon, Jenna, Cally –
Me: I covered the cats in the introduction. What else can you tell us about Blake’s 7?
Sue: I know that it’s set in space with a bunch of people in a space ship, or maybe it’s a space station? I’m expecting it to be like Red Dwarf, only not as funny.
I don’t dare tell her that it’s just like Red Dwarf only much, much funnier.
Me: Why didn’t you watch it when it was on television?
Sue: I would have been 17 in 1978 and I played badminton on Mondays. Not that I would have watched it anyway; all that spacey stuff wasn’t really my cup of tea.
Me: What do you expect Blake’s 7 to be like?
Sue: I want it to be like Firefly, with really fit blokes and a decent plot. Actually, just the fit blokes will do.
Me: Are you ready to make a start?
Sue: I do have one question before we begin: have any of the cast been questioned by Operation Yewtree?
Sue: OK, let’s do this.
I press Play.
Me: That sounds nothing like the theme to Blake’s 7, but nice try.
Sue: It sounds like the sort of music that Michael Bublé would walk out on stage to. It also reminds me of the theme to Dynasty.
Me: Do you notice anything odd about the logo?
Sue: Yes, that triangle is a blatant Star Trek rip-off. Even I know that.
I pause the DVD.
Me: Anything else?
She stares at the screen for ages.
Sue: The apostrophe is missing!
She can scarcely believe her eyes.
Sue: The apostrophe is missing! How shit is that?
I press Play again. And then this inevitably happens:
Sue: Oh no. Terry ****ing Nation! Not a good start!
Me: Actually, the programme’s official title is Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7.
Sue reaches for a cushion. I gently remind her that she’s promised not to belt me around the face for the duration of this blog and she backs down. Eventually.
Sue: You’ll pay for this later. And it won’t involve a cushion.
Blake’s 7 begins in a futuristic city.
Sue: This man walking down this corridor reminds me of Martin Shaw from The Professionals. I used to have a crush on Martin Shaw.
So far, so good.
Sue: I didn’t know that Blake’s first name was Roger! You kept that quiet.
It takes a while for Sue to work out where she is.
Sue: Is this a space station?
Sue: An alien planet?
Sue: A really big space ship?
Me: It’s Earth.
Sue: How was I supposed to know that! They should have put a caption on the screen. What year is this?
Me: I don’t know.
Sue: What do you mean, you don’t know? Why are you here again? For God’s sake, Neil.
A couple named Ravella and Dal Richie take Blake to a hatchway that leads to the outside world.
Sue: I’m guessing that these two are rebelling against something or other, I just don’t know what yet. Maybe they don’t like living like the Amish.
Me: The what?
Sue: The Amish. They look Amish. Spacey Amish.
The rebels lead Blake through an underground complex.
Sue: It looks like the campus basement at the university where I work. You know, the place where they keep all the bins. It’s not very glamorous.
Blake leaves the domed city behind.
Me: This is the only scene I remember watching in 1978 when this episode was first broadcast; this bit with the big dome in the background. The rest is just a blur.
Sue: It’s pretty good, actually. No wonder you remember it. I’ve got to say, though, this isn’t what I expected at all. This is more like Edge of Darkness than Doctor Who. Were you excited about Blake’s 7 when it came out?
Me: Big time. I probably didn’t sleep the night before.
Sue: You didn’t sleep last night, either.
Me: That’s completely different.
Sue: So what brought Blake’s 7 on, then? Were they trying to capitalise on the success of Doctor Who, or was it Star Wars? People were sci-fi crazy in the seventies.
Me: Star Wars wasn’t released in the UK when they began making Blake’s 7. We’ll cover the exact moment they saw it later in the series. It’s difficult to miss.
Ravella forces Blake to question the status quo on Earth.
Ravella: Doesn’t it bother you that you spend your life in a state of drug-induced tranquility?
Sue: Not really. Oh sorry, she was talking to Roger.
Blake is taken to Bran Foster, the rebels’ leader. Blake is told that he isn’t the person he thought he was, and, in a previous life, he was a rebel too.
Sue: Flappy hands!
Sue: Rewind that bit where Blake runs down that tunnel. Look at his hands!
She’s right. They do flap a bit.
Sue: I like this. It reminds me of The Prisoner. I thought this programme would be lots of people shooting laser beams at each other in corridors, but this is very psychological. The direction is interesting, too. Extreme close-ups!
Foster gathers the rebels together for a quick pep talk.
Sue: Just look at these losers. I’d have second thoughts about joining this shower. Their leader is rubbish. He isn’t very passionate. If I were Blake, I wouldn’t follow him to the shops.
Blake wanders off and bumps into some Federation guards coming the other way.
Sue: They’re looking for the James Bond film that’s shooting on the set next door.
The Federation guards murder the rebels in cold blood.
Sue: Their guns are pathetic. Yes, they’re doing the job, but they look like dud fireworks. You know, the ones that don’t go off properly when you light them and you can’t believe that you’ve paid a fiver to watch that. Rubbish!
Rubbish guns or not, it’s a massacre.
Sue: It would have been so much better if you’d heard them being killed off-screen. You didn’t need to see it. What time did Blake’s 7 go out? Was it after The Nine O’Clock News?
Me: The first episode went out at 6pm. The rest went out at 7:15pm.
Sue: You are having a laugh! That was horrific. No wonder you lot grew up so damaged and depraved.
A stunned Blake returns to the city, but Federation guards are already waiting for him.
Sue: At least the guy who’s playing Blake is pretty good. That’s a relief. It’s nothing like Doctor Who, though. I thought this would be more like Doctor Who. It’s a lot grittier than I expected. It’s like Torchwood but quite good. Hey, was that a hand-held camera I just saw? I’m impressed.
Blake’s case is discussed by the powers that be.
Sue: I recognise these sofas. These sofas were in Doctor Who. I remember liking them.
Me: Really? I can’t remember. I can’t remember. I can’t remember.
Sue: First you don’t know when this is set, and now you don’t know if they are the same sofas from Doctor Who or not. Can I watch this with someone who knows stuff about Blake’s 7 instead? What’s John Williams doing for the next six months?
It may be cheap and functional, but Sue likes the minimalistic look of future Earth.
Sue: I’m really glad they didn’t go overboard making it look all weird and spacey. If anything, they’ve toned everything down a bit. Even the make-up looks normal. It’s aged quite well, this.
Federation Arbiter General Ven Glynd wants Blake dealt with.
Sue: Barry Manilow isn’t happy about this at all.
Just in case we’ve forgotten that we’re in the future, the doors in this city make funny whooshing noises when somebody opens and closes them. And they have to open and close them. The Federation haven’t invented automatic doors yet, they’ve just invented the noise they make.
Sue: Those doors are farcical. They’re not fooling anyone. And it was going so well.
Having said that, Sue is a fan of the overall soundscape.
Sue: It’s very peaceful in the future. I wouldn’t mind living there. You know, this doesn’t even sound like Doctor Who.
Me: That’s strange because Dudley Simpson did the music.
Sue: Yes, but you can barely hear it. It’s as if he couldn’t be arsed. It’s deathly quiet.
Blake’s lawyer, Varon, arrives at Blake’s cell to discuss the state’s case against him.
Sue: That table could do with a beer mat under its leg. Look at the wobble on that!
Blake wants to plead guilty, but he hasn’t heard the charges yet.
Varon: Assault on a minor, attempting to corrupt minors –
Sue: Not miners again! It’s always the ****ing miners.
Me: Not miners – minors. Kids!
I rewind this, frankly, pivotal scene.
Varon: I’ve had the opportunity of talking to the children – that is, the prosecution witnesses – and they do seem very certain of their facts.
Sue: ****ING HELL. This is unbelievable. You wouldn’t even hint at something like that at 6pm nowadays. This is Operation Yewtree! In space!
Blake can’t believe it either.
Blake: I’ve got to hand it to you. You’ve done a BRILLIANT JOB!
Sue: He’s giving Tom Baker a run for his money, here. He isn’t afraid to go for it when he has to. That’s good.
A court convenes to hear Blake’s case.
Sue: You can tell that this is just a TV studio. The cyc curtain is casting some serious shadows across the back of that set.
Blake’s shady past (the one he can’t remember) is dredged up again.
Sue: It’s very convoluted, this. They should have just started with Blake in charge of the rebels. All this ‘he can’t remember he was a rebel’ nonsense is a bit long-winded. Is he a good guy or not? Stop pissing about.
Blake is flanked by Federation guards.
Sue: They must be sweating buckets in those helmets. And what does the green perspex do? Does it do something important or is it just for show?
A woman presides over the courtroom.
Sue: Is that Servalan?
There was a cat who belonged to the farmer next door, which we named Servalan. She was a right bitch (the cat, not the farmer). But she died. At least we think she died…
Me: No, she isn’t Servalan. In fact, she’s about as far removed from Servalan as it’s possible to get.
Blake offers no defence.
Sue: No defence is a terrible defence, mate. You know, Roger’s lawyer should be doing better. You’d think he’d do a lot better that this, what with him looking like Spock.
Justice is served in some perspex boxes.
Sue: It’s Deal or No Deal meets Judge Judy. Any minute now, the banker will offer Blake 15 years in prison, with time off for good behaviour. Deal, you fool! Deal!
Two flickering balls determine Blake’s fate.
Sue: A Tom Baker episode did exactly the same thing. Don’t ask me what it was called, but it’s exactly the same.
Blake is found guilty.
Sue: The computer says No.
Blake’s crimes are displayed on the courtroom’s cyc curtain.
Sue: I can’t see what’s Number One. I bet it’s something horrible like rape. I can’t believe that they got away with this.
Blake is taken to some holding cells, where an old woman is screaming her head off.
Sue: Well, this is cheerful. Where’s K9 when you need him? Or a razor?
Blake is placed in a cell with Jenna Stannis.
Sue: Is that Samantha Fox?
A convict named Vila Restal steals Blake’s watch.
Sue: It’s the vicar on EastEnders!
Blimey, that was quick.
Vila: I steal things. Compulsive, I’m afraid. I’ve had my head adjusted by some of the best in the business. But it just won’t stay adjusted.
Sue: So, one of our heroes is a raving klepto, and another is a convicted child molester. That’s lovely.
Vila introduces Blake to Jenna, a smuggler with form.
Sue: The cats are coming thick and fast now. She’s very pretty. Just like our cat. Did you fancy Jenna when you were a boy?
Me: I don’t think so. I was only nine.
Sue: Do you fancy her now? I bet you wouldn’t turn her down if she offered to smuggle –
Me: OK, let’s leave it there.
Sue decides to keep score.
Sue: This is basically Blake’s 2 right now. He’ll have to get his skates on if he wants to get his numbers up before the end of the episode.
Blake’s lawyer celebrates losing his latest case with a shag.
Sue: I can’t believe that Terry Nation wrote this. It’s proper, adult drama, this. No one ever shagged in Doctor Who. Well, not on-screen anyway.
Varon decides to investigate Blake’s case a little further.
Sue: In your own time, chick. Does he wait for all his clients to be sent down before he starts doing his bloody job?
The Federation’s computer records are controlled by man waving an enormous Sony Walkman in the air. Sue calls him “the moody Eric Bristow”.
Sue: That Walkman was years ahead of its time in 1978. They actually got that bit right.
Me: And yet so horribly wrong.
Varon suspects that the children have had the abuse implanted in their heads.
Sue: Why didn’t they just put the memory in Blake’s head? He’d think he was guilty and then he wouldn’t put up a fight. That would have saved a lot of time, and that way they could have spared the kids. This is just wrong.
Varon uncovers enough evidence to bring the administration down.
Sue: I like the way that Varon wasn’t in on the conspiracy and he just did his job. Badly, I might add, but at least he’s making up for it now. Why haven’t we got a cat called Varon? I like Varon.
Varon overhears Ven Glynd scheming behind closed doors.
Sue: So these doors make futuristic whooshing noises when they open and close, but they offer no privacy at all. What’s that all about?
Blake, Vila and Jenna are escorted from their holding cell.
Sue: The other members of the seven aren’t saying very much. In fact, they aren’t saying anything at all.
Varon and his girlfriend discover the bodies of the rebels in the underground car park outside.
Sue: They didn’t even bury them. They should have cremated them at the very least. That’s lazy and horrible.
Blake boards a ship bound for Cygnus Alpha. According to Sue (and only Sue), the prison ship is under the thrall of a young Dennis Waterman.
Sue: I could be so good for you. Treat you like you want me to.
Guard: (to Blake) You can start with a couple of hours confinement. Seat eleven, confinement!
Sue: But what if Blake needs to go for a wee during the flight?
It turns out that a creepy blonde man named Dev Tarrant set the whole thing up, and he has Varon and his girlfriend murdered in cold blood.
Sue: We’ll never call one of our cats Tarrant. What a massive ****! I hope he gets his comeuppance soon. There was no need for that.
The episode ends with Blake watching the Earth recede from view; a bit like my hair. Blake vows to return; I wish my hair would do that. Cue credits.
Me: That’s better.
Sue: That’s the best thing Terry Nation has ever done. Which isn’t saying very much, but still.
And then my wife stuns me.
Sue: What I find interesting is that Blake is banished from his home planet, just like the Doctor was banished from his home planet. And he said he would get back one day, too. Yes, one day. One day…
Good Lord, what have I done?
Me: So what are you going to give that out of ten?
Sue: Oh, no! Do I have to mark the episodes as well? I hate marking them; I get enough of that at work. Why don’t we do it differently this time? Why don’t you score the episodes instead? What would you give it?
Me: No one cares what I think. Come on, Sue. Think of the graphs.
Sue: Can I mark the episodes out of seven?
Sue: Oh, I don’t know… What am I supposed to compare it to? Breaking Bad or 1970s Doctor Who? Because it’s not as good as Breaking Bad.
Me: Let’s go with the latter.
Sue: It was all right, I suppose. I enjoyed it. It was very bleak, and definitely not for kids, and it was a bit slow to get going, but I liked the premise and the acting was more than OK. The direction wasn’t bad, either. As long as Blake returns to Earth and clears his name, I’ll be happy.
Me: You did that on purpose, didn’t you?