Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t watched an episode of ‘Blakes 7’ since the original show came to its controversial close in 1981. Over the years, despite once being a fan, I had mentally packed it away under ‘rubbish’ and put it into brain storage. Prompted by my friend and colleague Fearlono’s constant texting about various elements of the programme, however, I decided to revisit it. I believe they call that ‘peer group pressure’.
I’m not going to pretend that it’s the greatest programme I’ve ever seen, but I have to admit that I was wrong - in fact, it’s dark and sombre and serious - proper dystopic sci fi space opera – and all set in a depressingly squalid future.
Blake may be an idealist (although he is prepared to put others at risk for his beliefs), but the rest of his crew are, by and large, scumbags. Villa is a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon a borderline psycho with a Messiah complex. Only Gan (my favourite as a child) has an excuse for his criminal record – he killed the man who murdered his ‘woman’ – and suffered an experimental brain implant that limits his capacity for violence as a result. Basically, they are lawless fugitives but, because Blake has principles, they occasionally blow something up or jam a Federation signal and, subsequently, have created the legend that they are freedom fighters, a desperately needed commodity in an appallingly restricted world.
Under the jackboot of The Federation (or the high heel of Servalan, if you like, and a lot of people do), the entire universe has been turned into a machine to serve the evil empire – a grey, dirty conglomeration of factories and refineries, scrappy colonies and half-abandoned research stations on barren, unforgiving planets. Half of the people are slaves, the other half fascists and quislings. So called ‘inferior’ races labour away in mines until malnutrition or radiation poison kills them. It’s depressing as hell, not a hint of glitter or brave new world. Resistance is met with death (the series opens with a massacre) or torture and disgrace (they frame Blake for child molestation in order to destroy his reputation). If you’re lucky, you get your brain wiped and get to start again.
This is the real future of humanity: living on a slag heap, working like dogs, kept in check by a ruthless, faceless police force and crappy robots, scrabbling around trying to survive for no other reason than instinct. It all seems completely pointless. There is literally no-one in this world who enjoys life or living. Power must be its own reward because, apart from an increasingly outlandish array of white outfits, even supreme commander Servalan seems to simply rattle between space stations and quarries, endlessly tramping around in high heels and being menacing without ever actually getting anywhere. It’s a chilling and, I think, pretty accurate picture of what things will be like in 700 years: shit. The only thing the show does get slightly wrong is that everywhere seems semi-inhabited rather than teeming with over-population, but perhaps there was a plague or something equally catastrophic. It wouldn’t surprise me, it feels like the End Of Days now.
So, ‘Blakes 7’ – not rubbish, not rubbish at all.