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Making B7: Behind the scenes of "The Dirty Dozen in Space"
May 13, 2014 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Before there was Firefly, after there was Star Trek, in between there was… Blake's 7 (previously). The BBC's dystopian space opera ran for four series, ended with arguably the bleakest finale in sci-fi TV, yet never achieved popularity in proportion to its influence. To accompany its DVD release, documentary filmmaker Kevin Jon Davies prepared making-of videos for the first three series, which he has now posted YouTube: Series 1, Series 2, Series 3. Learn the origins of Blake's dysfunctional band of freedom-fighters, the secrets of the show's horrible SFX, watch the cast read aloud their worst reviews, and much more!
posted by Doktor Zed (32 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also noteworthy because the eponymous Blake wasn't in most of it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:07 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Oh awesome, these should be good fun! Thanks for posting them.

I'll be interested to see if they talk about the Federation symbol. Since the B7 evil Federation symbol is basically the Star Trek Federation symbol on its side, I always enjoyed the fan theory that Star Trek was a propaganda program made by the Blake's 7 Federation for airing on entertainment channels within the B7 universe. 'See, the Federation is so benevolent and has only your best interests at heart!'
posted by theatro at 6:23 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


> never achieved popularity in proportion to its influence

It did over here. Jacqueline Pearce's Federation president Servalan remains iconic.

(the guns were crap though, we wanted Star Wars laser bolts, we got things like hair straighteners that lit up)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:23 AM on May 13


It's well worth another watch, especially the collection of (deliberately) ramshackle characters. The sociopath Avon; the jester thief Vila; the cynical Jenna; the calculating Servalan; and the egotistical and neurotic portable computer Orac.

(Finds video of humans struggling to interact with Orac; is happy)

There's a demographic of 40-somethings who go into extreme nostalgia and memory-tripping mode when they hear the theme music.
posted by Wordshore at 6:27 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


This show is my friend's favorite show of all time, I think...
posted by symbioid at 6:33 AM on May 13


If nothing else, watch the episode where Avon and Vila are leaving a planet in a shuttle that's been sabotaged to crash before reaching orbit (it weighs too much to break orbit and they can't figure out why at first). So they're frantically stripping and pitching everything that can possibly be removed from the shuttle, but the computer still says then need to lose X kilos and there's nothing else to get rid of. Then the computer helpfully points out that Vila weighs like X+3 kilos.

Great performances from both actors. Lovely little episode.

There's also a line from Servalan that is about the only thing I remember from its particular episode - I just thought it was so brilliant in its context. "It's an old wall, Avon. It waits."

On the other hand, there was just so much stupid shit in this show too. My ex-wife and I for years after the fact would occasionally just break out and yell "Crimmos! Crimmos!" in random moments to crack each other up.
posted by Naberius at 6:39 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Still one of my favourites, despite some of the terrible things in it (the episodes written by the outright misogynist for one). Got all the DVDs signed by the cast.

Meanwhile, parody/tribute "Blake's Junction 7" (parts 1 and 2) - with Martin Freeman, Johnny Vegas and Mackenzie Crook, and the actual voice of Peter Tuddenham - has a some behind the scenes.
posted by Auz at 6:47 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


That is a great episode Naberius, I remember having my mind blown as a seven year old that one main character might consider killing another. Its also great for featuring Avon pushing a tiny piece of perspex across a floor like it weighed a ton.

we got things like hair straighteners that lit up

You could not be more wrong, I was just about to ask which were coolest, the alien cylindrical guns or the later ones they had post liberator. The former did at least look like they weren't made for humans and were outside the gun design norm. The latter were Dredd ripoffs, which in turn were Logan's Run ripoffs.
posted by biffa at 6:50 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


If nothing else, watch the episode where Avon and Vila are leaving a planet in a shuttle that's been sabotaged to crash

One of my favorite episodes, too.

Blakes 7 would have to be in my top five series of all time.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:16 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Blake's 7 is the GREATEST.
I will accept no argument.

But ... Paul "Avon" Darrow as MacBeth is worth a look.

That voice.
"#unf" as the kids say.

I'll let others figure out where they remember Pamela Salem from.
posted by Mezentian at 7:17 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Also noteworthy because the eponymous Blake wasn't in most of it.

I am not sure if you are serious.
posted by Mezentian at 7:22 AM on May 13


Blake was thought dead for about the last half of the show.

I caught the final season or two in reruns when I moved to England as a teen. It and Sapphire & Steel really messed with me in a good way.
posted by immlass at 7:40 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I am not sure if you are serious.

Gareth Thomas, who played Blake, bailed on the show after the second series. So they basically had Blake disappear, and it wasn't really clear whether he was out there somewhere or dead until he came back for the final episode of the fourth series (and, as it turned out, the series finale) - mainly because he insisted that they absolutely positively kill off Blake this time so he wouldn't constantly get pestered about whether Blake was still alive and would he show up again.

So yeah, for two of its four seasons, a show called Blake's 7 lacked Blake and was for all practical purposes, Avon's 7. (The 7 was pretty fluid too. It wasn't quite Game of Thrones, but they tended to go through characters pretty quickly.)

(Actually, trivia question - the only character to appear in every episode of the show was Vila. The first episode is very unlike the rest of the show. It's set on Earth, and Blake is an underground political revolutionary who gets arrested and tried and sentenced to exile on a prison world. Vila shows up briefly in that episode, but we don't meet any of the other characters until Blake is on the prison transport ship in Episode 2. So only Blake and Vila in episode 1, and of course no Blake for the whole back half of the series.)
posted by Naberius at 7:45 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Ah, that moment in Pressure Point when they get into "Control" and Avon just keeps watching Blake.

I liked the guns, but the noise they made when they went back into the bucket holsters was very dairy.
posted by hawthorne at 8:03 AM on May 13


@immlass Sapphire & Steel, Children Of The Stones, The Changes - so many great, eerie programmes back then that weren't afraid to just use atmosphere and give things time.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:06 AM on May 13


My standard advice for those encountering the show for the first time.
posted by seasparrow at 8:08 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


There was an extremely long period where you could rely on two things: On American SF shows the effects would be good and the writing would suck, and on British shows the effects would be pathetic and the writing would range from okay to sublime. Blake's 7 is the epitome of the latter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:10 AM on May 13


See also this BBC doc The Cult of Blake's 7. Very well done

(With - I think - Robert Llewellyn doing the voiceover)
posted by DanCall at 8:21 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Fittingly, although Davies had planned a documentary video to cover Series 4, the project fell through after a disagreement between the licence holder and the BBC. B7 Enterprises explained, "Our reasons for not sanctioning the Kevin Davies’ documentary are largely due to the fact that we did not feel it provided a proper tribute or fresh retrospective of the show. {...} Kevin produced what he did with the best intent and budget that was available and this lack of budget was badly reflected in its technical quality as much as its severe limitations in content." While they omitted the documentaries from the DVD's US version, they apparently don't mind Davies uploading them to his own YouTube channel, so at least there isn't the threat of a DMCA takedown hanging over them.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:23 AM on May 13


The first episode of Blake's 7 I ever saw was the finale. It was an accident - I'd heard about the show via some fandom friends, and one day flipping channels happened upon an episode, got sucked in, and only realized by the end that it was The Episode that they had hinted about. Not too long afterwards, there happened to be a small B7 convention at a Holiday Inn near Newark airport at which Avon & Vila were guests, and I joined my friends in going. I have fond memories of the reaction from the audience & actors when I prefaced my question in the panel Q&A with the fact that I'd only seen "Blake" so far. (I can't remember what Avon said exactly - he'd been making disparaging jokes about Blake throughout the panel, in an in-character way.) Anyway, it was a fun little con, and I made sure to watch the rest of the series later.

In terms of the dystopian bleakness of the show, as I recall, the crime that the Federation frames Blake for is pedophilia. And eventually it is revealed that the Federation used some kind of mind-wipe to implant false memories into the children Blake was convicted of raping.
posted by oh yeah! at 9:14 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Slightly OT but the Logan's Run guns were unique in that the props actually fired real flames. That movie might have been the high point for pre-computer science fiction effects where they just tried to do it as nearly real as possible.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:44 AM on May 13


In terms of the dystopian bleakness of the show, as I recall, the crime that the Federation frames Blake for is pedophilia. And eventually it is revealed that the Federation used some kind of mind-wipe to implant false memories into the children Blake was convicted of raping.

I would love to see them do a remake of this and keep this tone, you could do really interesting things with an intro episode where Blake is doubting himself and the audience is led along the same path and only reveal to him and us, but not necessarily others in the universe, that all is not as it seems. if they ever do it I really hope its BSG style and not Doctor Who.
posted by biffa at 12:09 PM on May 13


ONe time the special effects people had to convey the titular 7 climbing down a very long ladder, so had them climb down the same ladder three times with different coloured lighting.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:23 PM on May 13


Also this comment, from seasparrow's link above, is relevant:

Hey, I like this show & I've probably seen every episode, but I think you're over-selling it a bit (which is sort of obv. based on the number of episodes you suggest skipping). It's a hell of a lot of fun if you like really, really, awful TV, but it's pretty awful compared to almost any other sci-fi. Many of the actors are awful, the production values you've mentioned (& you weren't kidding—though you don't go far enough in explaining how incredibly cheap everything is). You don't mention at all that there are pretty much three kinds of planets that make up their galaxy: "English Quarry," "English Forest," & "English power station." If you've never seen an episode do yourself a favor and watch a little of the trailer above before you put a lot of effort into the show—it's not for the faint of heart. Or those with any particular taste. & I think it goes without saying it's best watched at 4:20.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:39 PM on May 13


Spotted on a card in front of a table during the Doctor Who night of a local PBS pledge drive:

AVON LIVES. HE DUCKED.
posted by JHarris at 2:47 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


It's a hell of a lot of fun if you like really, really, awful TV, but it's pretty awful compared to almost any other sci-fi.

While Blake's 7 gets compared with Star Trek most often, it's also a contrast to Star Wars. That movie's rebel alliance was, of course, less fractious and more successful against Lucas's vaguely Nixonian villains, but B7 script editor Chris Boucher took inspiration from Latin American revolutionaries, such as Zapata, for the crew of the Liberator. The other factor is their differing approaches to the traditional space opera. Star Wars uncritically adapted the spirit of sci-fi b-movie serial adventures but updated its adventures with state-of-the-art SFX. Blake's 7 took the ideas of galactic liberation and interplanetary politics seriously—perhaps sometimes too self-seriously—although the BBC couldn't afford special effects much better than those of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe or Radar Men from the Moon.

Nevertheless, taken on its own merits (or at least not on its demerits), it has more intelligence and atmosphere than its bigger-budgeted contemporaries Space: 1999, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, et al. Its influence, acknowledged or not, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, Farscape, and Firefly becomes obvious pretty quickly.

But stay away from the 4th series episode "Assassin". Servalan vampishly bidding at a slave auction for a captive Avon is the series' nadir.
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:48 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


But stay away from the 4th series episode "Assassin".

Everyone has their "worst episode", usually from series four. I see "Animals" and "Headhunter" mentioned a lot.
Personally, "Gold" is my least preferred.

But I guess the golden age of Blake's 7 is seven, which is about how old I was when I first saw it.
I guess I didn't know better, but I loved it as much as Star Wars or Flash Gordon (the latter really does have problems that I can see now). I believe I cried an had nightmares when Gan died, and I was banned from watching it for a while. And even when I was older I experienced visceral horror when watching "Headhunter".

I didn't really experience it properly until I found it on VHS in the late 1990s, and man, is the pilot trilogy dark?
Yes, the CGI is ropey as all get out, but it's no worse than Doctor Who was at the time.

I have rewatched it twice on DVD since acquiring the boxed sets from the UK and I just love it. The core characters (Avon, Villa, ORAC and either Blake Or Tarrant) still enrapture me in a way few fictional characters do (Farscape is another show). I just get sucked into it and don't notice the awful props and the cardboard sets.

I even like some of the audios, and I still, to this day, dearly hope beyond hope that when the remake happens it's Paul Darrow's vision and not the SyFy remake the US keeps threatening us with.

Incidentally, if like me you enjoyed Adventures with the Wife In Space, Neil and Sue Perryman appear to be watching Blake's 7 now.
posted by Mezentian at 7:02 PM on May 13


Oh man, I need to re-watch this series.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:30 PM on May 13


The first two episodes of Blake's 7 are my favorite (although I'll admit I've only watched the first two seasons), and the advice in the IO9 article to skip the first episode is a bit baffling to me. It's some of the most darkly delicious dystopian sci-fi I've ever seen on TV, outside of The Prisoner and that one episode of Babylon 5.

Then it all goes out the window when Brian Blessed shows up.

The rest is a pretty decent space opera -- darker and smarter than Doctor Who was at the time, but also somehow cheesier. Avon was totally a nihilistic hacker type before it was cool.
posted by neckro23 at 2:21 AM on May 14


despite some of the terrible things in it (the episodes written by the outright misogynist for one)

Not sure if this is a reference to Terry Nation or not (I haven't finished watching the videos linked above) but just chiming in here to say that Terry was more of a misanthrope than a misogynist. He pretty much hated everybody, and I think it shows in his work. Nevertheless Terry was a truly brilliant guy and the funniest person I've ever known. Thanks to the OP for posting this.
posted by Sylvia Tebrick at 2:58 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Sylvia Tebrick: "Not sure if this is a reference to Terry Nation or not"

No, I mean Ben Steed.

Particularly “Power” wherein Avon literally beats a woman's psychic powers by being a man: “It's your strength. And however you use it a man's will always be greater.”
posted by Auz at 6:12 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


"It's your strength. And however you use it a man's will always be greater."

Oh wow! I'd forgotten that. How awful.

Thanks for clarifying.
posted by Sylvia Tebrick at 11:00 PM on May 15


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