It’s hard to believe that 33 years ago today, television viewers tuned in for what would turn out to be the final episode of Blake’s 7, Dalek creator Terry Nation’s seminal science-fiction space opera.
A definitive cult classic from the off, blending gritty pulp sci-fi with boys-own adventure and occasional moments of camp, the show has been a mainstay of popular British science fiction since 1978.
Join us here as we celebrate the brilliance of Blake’s 7…
What was it about?
The BBC’s attempt at cresting the wave of Star Wars, Blake’s 7 told the story of a mismatched group of criminals-turned-freedom fighters, fighting against the oppressive Federation regime that ruled the galaxy.
Led by the idealistic but flawed rebel Roj Blake, the gang fought Supreme Commander Servalan and the evil Federation, as well as against aliens, mercenaries, and even on occasion, each other.
Who was in it?
Gareth Thomas played Blake during the show’s first two seasons, whilst Paul Darrow played the cold and calculated hacker Avon, who was eventually upgraded to main lead when Thomas left the show.
Michael Keating played cowardly thief Vila and appeared in all 52 episodes, whilst Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell and David Jackson rounded out the main cast during the first two years as pilot Jenna, telepathic rebel Cally and gentle giant Gan respectively. Peter Tuddenham provided the voices of super computer’s Zen and Orac.
Jacqueline Pearce, though initially cast as the glamorously evil Servalan for just one episode, eventually became a series regular and a fan favourite, hunting and plotting against Blake, Avon and the gang every week, all whilst somehow managing to look simply fabulous.
As the show continued, Steven Pacey, Josette Simon and Glynis Barber joined the main cast, as Blake’s 7 had the habit of killing off regular characters willy-nilly; much like The Walking Dead does today.
The show’s inaugural episode, ‘The Way Back’, is a triumph of storytelling – a political thriller that takes its inspiration from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s completely different when compared to the 51 episodes that were to follow, but as an introduction to both Blake and the Federation, it’s a well written, dark and unsettling piece of dystopian drama.
The brilliant episodes don’t stop there – ‘Redemption’ sees the crew discover the origin of their mysterious spaceship, the Liberator; ‘Pressure Point’ marks a major turning point for the series as a member of the crew is killed in action, whilst Robert Holmes’ ‘Gambit’ is a campy but hilarious sidestep for the show.
Season 2’s climax ‘Star One’ is a perfect season finale with a killer cliffhanger, ‘Rumours of Death’ delves into Avon’s past, whilst ‘City at the Edge of the World’ shows a more heroic side to Vila and features a killer guest stint from future-Sixth Doctor Colin Baker.
Whilst Season 4 is often dismissed by fans as the weakest of the show’s four year run, it contains some real classic episodes, including ‘Sand’ and ‘Orbit’, the latter of which may contain one of the darkest moments in the entire series, as Avon attempts to kill Vila to save himself from a crashing spaceship.
The final episode, ‘Blake’, aired on 21 December 1981, ruining Christmas for a generation of young fans, as the entire main cast were brutally gunned down by Federation troops.
Blake returned, only to meet a grisly demise at the hands of Avon, who shot him repeatedly after mistaking Blake for a traitor. It’s undeniably one of the best episodes of the series, and one of the most daring and brilliant TV finales ever.
Most of the main cast returned to record two BBC Radio Plays in 1998 and 1999, set during the show’s fourth season, both of which were written by former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts. The less we say about those though, the better.
Since 2000, there have been numerous attempts at a remake of the show, all of which have met with little success. With the rights to the series bought up by B7 Media Productions, a continuation of the show, set 30 years on from the events of the final episode, was mooted for 2005 with Paul Darrow attached as producer and star, in a storyline that would see an older, wiser Avon team-up with a new group of outer-space radicals. Darrow eventually parted company with the production, citing creative differences.
B7 Media went on to produce a short-lived audio remake in 2007, starring Derek Ridell (Happy Valley) and Colin Salmon (Resident Evil), whilst Sky1 commissioned a pilot script for a TV remake from the same company, written by Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle (Primeval, Wolfblood). Sadly, in 2010 Sky announced that they had passed on the project.
Since then, Big Finish Productions have produced countless audiobooks based on the original series, featuring many of the surviving cast-members, whilst across the pond, Heroes writer Joe Pokaski has reportedly been working on a new US adaptation of the original series for Xbox Live, directed by Casino Royale’s Martin Campbell. Frankly, we’ll believe it when we see it.
What’s your favourite moment in Blake’s 7? Let us know below…