Monday, 6 February 2012

Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 1: The Way Back. Sci-fi for grown ups?


What happens in this one?
On a bleak, dystopian Earth, we meet freedom-fighter Roj Blake as he begins to rediscover himself after having had his memory erased by totalitarian rotters 'The Federation'. After four years of drug-induced placidity, a new group of Outsiders remind him of his past role as a high profile rebel. Fearing Blake will again emerge as a resistance figurehead, the Federation's administration frame him for crimes he didn't commit. There's lots of fighting, treachery and killing - it's a very dark time, you see. His punishment is an exile on a penal colony, and, with efforts to free him proving hopeless, Blake ends up on a prison ship where he meets a glamorous space smuggler and a cowardly comedy lock-picker, as well as lots of extras in tunics. Everyone speaks terribly proper as is the custom for all television drama of this period.

This is serious. Proper serious. Seriously hushed voices, pregnant pauses and dark, dimly lit places, some of which look like underground car parks. Creepy flashback sequences, brutal deaths - and seriously dull clothing. This is not tv-ohh's main recollection of Blakes 7 (no apostrophe!) from the many repeats I had watched every Sunday morning in the mid-nineties.

Where was the humour? Unless it's so black even I'm not disturbed enough to appreciate it.

Where were the costumes that seemed so impractical and embarrassingly out of place in their quest to be sexy, or the computer technology that can talk back? 
It's Vila!
Immaculate space-hair

Episode one of the series doesn't start off as the series it would become - the series I remembered. But, 30 minutes and 32 seconds in, there is a glimmer of hope when the first two characters of what will make up Blake's gang of seven appear: the glamorous Jenna, complete with big and immaculate space-hair, and the comedy relief that is Vila, a thief, a coward and expert lock-picker - but less impressive on the hair front, admittedly.

Vila tries to steal a sleeping Blake's watch and wallet - and he immediately falls off a bed, slapstick style, as Jenna looks on - but sadly even they seem depressed at whatever impending doom lurks around each corner as they begin to befriend Blake, although of course no one's really sure of anyone - it's drama remember.

But if I was watching this on the 2nd of January 1978, I would have been pleasantly surprised. 

The acting is mostly solid and realistic (if a little dull after 49 minutes, by modern standards), but crucially, generally good characterisation add to the un-fairytale-like grittiness of the atmosphere.

Every scene poses more questions and makes me want to watch onwards. The exposition of the situation is presented with painstaking clarity, there are the 'repressed' and there are the 'evil'. Never the twain should meet but when they do, conflict ensues. What could be more clear than that?
Jenna, Blake and Vila ponder their fate
Love scene

Perhaps most excitingly, for potentially the first time on UK television, there is a love scene in UK tv sci-fi. It features Blake's prosecutor Tel Varon and his girlfriend Maja who are only seen kissing in bed while fully dressed, but suspicious about the trial, they decide to investigate the details of the apparently too 'perfect' case against Blake. 

At this stage you think they might become regular characters (they don't), and their kisses are in-between them talking about issues integral to the plot (EXPOSITION alert!) - but could this be the time that sci-fi tried really hard to grow up?

There's a feeling this isn't sci-fi for children that adults can enjoy. This is sci-fi for adults that children cannot be bothered with as they'll probably find it a bit slow. 

And that's just as well, given Varon's discovery that the children Blake is found guilty of abusing had false memories implanted in their heads to make them believe it happened: this is very dark stuff.

Even so, I'm hooked - and if this was 2 January 1978 I would be circling the next episode in my Radio Times.

If this was made with the production values of today it would be a big old hit.

One episode down, 51 left to go. I hope you'll follow me on this re-watch journey - I'd love to know what you think, too. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Fact box ahoy:
Blakes 7 S1E1 The Way Back

Written by Terry Nation
First shown: 02/01/78
Director: Michael E Briant
Guest Star(s): Jeremy Wilkin (more popularly known as the voice of Virgil Tracy in Thunderbirds)

All images/screen-grabs copyright BBC

Related stories:
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 1: The Way Back. Sci-fi for grown ups?
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 2: Space Fall - story grips, effects do not
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 3 - Cygnus Alpha: BRIAN BLESSED; plot holes
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 Episode 4: Time Squad - Enter Cally the telepath. Hmm
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Series 1 Episode 5: The Web - a moral dilemma with an easy solution
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 Episode 6 - Seek-Locate-Destroy - Enter Servalan and Travis, straight from a fetish club

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    1. This series should be re-made. Look at the success of Dr Who!

      Surely it's crying out for a reboot??

    2. There were plans to remake it a few years ago, and for it to be shown on Sky - but then it didn't happen. It has to be due a new version - I would love it too!