Gareth Thomas (1945-2016)
April 14, 2016 2:31 AM   Subscribe

Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, best known for starring as Roj Blake in the BBC's 1970s science fiction drama Blake's Seven, has died aged 71.

Trained at RADA and appearing in several RSC productions, Thomas appeared regularly on British TV from the late 1960s onwards. But he remains best known as revolutionary leader Roj Blake in Blake's Seven, often cited as a forerunner of, and influence on, darker and more conflict-centred sf such as Babylon 5 and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. The conflict between the idealistic Blake and the cynical, self-serving and ruthless Kerr Avon (memorably portrayed by Paul Darrow) was at the centre of the first two seasons of the show, which despite its small budget, creaky sets and eccentric costuming was very successful.

Thomas left Blake's Seven at the end of its second season, Darrow's Avon replacing him as central character. He reappeared as a simulation of Blake in the third season finale, and then as Blake himself in the final episode of the fourth and last season. Not wanting to return again, Thomas insisted that he be written out once and for all; the resulting scene became one of the biggest shock endings in British tv history.

Although best known as Blake, Thomas continued acting until the 2000s, his last screen performance being in medical drama Holby City in 2011. He briefly returned to television sf in an episode of Torchwood, 'Ghost Machine'.
posted by Major Clanger (38 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Farewell, Blake.

posted by andraste at 2:37 AM on April 14, 2016

All my heroes are dying this year.

posted by ZipRibbons at 2:58 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


posted by dannyboybell at 3:33 AM on April 14, 2016

Well, I think we can conclusively say at this point that he will not return for another series.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:36 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's something resolutely British about having a show called Blake's Seven where the eponymous Blake isn't in it for like, half the show and then at the end, everyone dies.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:37 AM on April 14, 2016 [15 favorites]

posted by ntk at 3:41 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by Wordshore at 3:51 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by Smart Dalek at 3:52 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by Pinback at 5:54 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 5:57 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by chambers at 6:14 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by allthinky at 6:18 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by seasparrow at 6:40 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by KingEdRa at 6:40 AM on April 14, 2016

No more heroes any more...

Goodbye, Blake, I loved you as a kid, and even as an adult, I still have a soft spot in my heart for you and your Liberator. Seriously, I know poeple knock it, and yeah, it had it's faults (toffs in space) but it was dark and gritty and antiestablishment, and totally different from any other sci-fi around (or before it) at the time it was on. If only the BBC had spent some money on it.

/me *listens to* "an ever growing, pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the Utlraworld."

*ascii art liberator.jpg* (because a dot doesn't feel right)
posted by marienbad at 6:42 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

RIP Gareth.

"There's no one called Blake and there's not seven of them"
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:54 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by faceplantingcheetah at 6:59 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by drezdn at 7:37 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by mdoar at 7:44 AM on April 14, 2016

Nos Da, Gareth.

Orac was among my favourite TV AIs, almost as un-spectacular as Holly in Red Dwarf.
posted by Myeral at 7:44 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by mubba at 7:52 AM on April 14, 2016

Aw crap, I was hoping to wait a lot longer for this news. One of my favorite TV actors -- his performances were nuanced, but the nuances were 3D and solid, theater performances for TV. He always gave more than was required of him, and was always totally committed onscreen to whatever bullshit-of-the-day (and occasional fantastic gem) the show had to offer. Even in his rare reappearances, after he'd quit, when you'd think he'd have some license to finally phone it in, he never did.

I wish there was some real record of his stage work, which was extensive; the obits give his last TV credit, but he was still doing live theater up to at least 2013. I suspect he'd have preferred to be remembered for that, having after all chosen a spot in the RSC over a starring role on a popular show, but that's not how these things work.
posted by thesmallmachine at 8:53 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to add some praise of Blake -- Thomas gave us a character who arced from idealism to bitterness, all without even being there half the time, and he managed to infuse even Blake's happier years with interesting undercurrents of vanity and self-delusion. Blake was a man whose friends would follow him anywhere, even if they didn't fully understand why; for all his flaws, he was the only person in the show's universe who believed wholeheartedly in a better world.
posted by thesmallmachine at 9:02 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by praemunire at 9:08 AM on April 14, 2016

B7 was fantastic sci-fi.
posted by JawnBigboote at 10:46 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by detachd at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2016

posted by NailsTheCat at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2016

posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:51 PM on April 14, 2016

even though for B7, alien planet = gravel pit in the West Midlands and advanced space vehicle = Vauxhall Chevette with a couple of eggboxes glued on top, it was great television. Its memory is strong; I made a very flashy acrylic case for a Raspberry Pi the other day, and a friend comment that I'd made Orac.

posted by scruss at 2:33 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

posted by gusandrews at 6:36 PM on April 14, 2016


I remain hopeful for a continuation of B7 more than any work of film or TV ever (yes, including Firefly), but I am saddened by the fact "an unexpected Blake appears" will never again be part of that universe, or get his kudos from a generation that just sees the wobbly sets, garbage bag future fashion and quarries as jokes.

He was a brilliant actor in three or four things I saw him in, but he created an iconic role that, as others have mentioned, wasn't much in the show he was the lead character for, but her just towered over everything (and he was solid in the Children of the Stones, and I think he was quite believable in Torchwood)

And, is it me, or is that so young?
posted by Mezentian at 3:17 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Roj Blake's earnest idealism would have been laughable had not Gareth Thomas brought that to life, earnest idealism, warts and all, in a way that the character and his arguments were believable. His portrayal allowed even a cynical viewer to buy into his beliefs and motives enough to entertain his arguments, even if they disagreed with how he went about applying those beliefs. His ability to present Blake as a man who knew he wasn't invulnerable or perfect, but was a man who saw gross injustice all around him and realized there was nothing else he could do but fight it. He had his own doubts and regrets, sometimes demonstrated foolishly and selfishly ("Trial"), or in much more subtle ways. Gareth made Blake realistic - not a flat, cookie cutter fanatic or zealot, not a man filled with inspiring speeches or sermons, but a man relying on the power of an appeal to basic human dignity to rally those around him.

You understood why all these people were willing to follow him, because they each of them found themselves in their own "what else can I do but fight" situations. They all knew that there was no practical way to escape the Federation alone - eventually they would make a mistake, or run out of luck, and it's over for them. By throwing their lot in with Blake, there was at least a chance of getting a few meaningful punches in before the eventual end. Time and again Blake's plans fail through betrayal, bad planning, or bad luck, but yet his companions remain with him, and you rarely if ever find that loyalty unbelievable or irrational. Even after Blake leaves the story, his presence and his ideals remain a driving factor of the story. Because really, what else can they do?

I could go on for ages about Blake, the importance of Avon as a counterpoint to him, and the overall strengths of story and character and how they can thrive in the face of a limited budget. Blake's 7 is second only to The Prisoner, (with James Burke's Connections a close third) when it comes to my tendency to endlessly examine and pontificate about television programs that have affected me. I've already gone on longer than I intended, but I can't explain how his work was significant to me without engaging it through one of the characters he played.

His contribution to the show was invaluable. I may personally identify more with Avon than Blake at times, but I can think of no one else who could have played that role anywhere near as successfully as Gareth did.
posted by chambers at 2:20 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is there any interest in a B7 rewatch over on Fanfare?
It's been about a decade since I've watched it (I did rewatch the Tanith Lee episodes when she died), so I could probably stand to watch it again.
posted by Mezentian at 1:35 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh crud. Ffs.


- and if anything happens to Tom Baker I'm gonna tantrum,
posted by taff at 3:07 PM on April 16, 2016

posted by Ignorantsavage at 10:12 PM on April 16, 2016

Mezentian: I would be up for it. I think the episodes are all on Youtube as well, so it would make it easy for people to join in. Maybe make a post in fanfare talk, and link to it here, or message some of the people in this thread about it. Message me for sure!

chambers: Great analysis, if the rewatch goes ahead, I hope you join in.
posted by marienbad at 3:42 PM on April 17, 2016

I did follow your advice. I forget Fanfare talk is a thing.
posted by Mezentian at 1:16 AM on April 22, 2016

The first episode of the rewatch is up on Fanfare if any B7 fans here want to come and join in.
posted by marienbad at 2:21 PM on April 27, 2016

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