It’s been 19 months since I sat down with The Way Back. That’s a relatively long time to spend, almost non-stop, with a series and its characters. They have lived in my head between episodes, between writing these blogs, between doodling them in notebooks, and between chatting about Blake’s 7 with friends.
Partway through, I began to notice that I was using words like ‘we’ and ‘our’ to describe the crew. I didn’t stop because I’d come to feel invested in the adventure and with our heroes, which is also why I was dreading it coming to an end. However, once I’d set a day, a knot of nervous excitement began to build and as the titles played for one last time, I felt my heart’s rhythm speed up slightly.
The ending of Blake’s 7 is one of the worst kept secrets in science-fiction. I was aware everyone was going to die when I knew virtually nothing else about the series. I’m now glad of this because I’d have been more annoyed at having it spoilt after I started watching. Nonetheless, I had never known who counted as ‘everyone’ and didn’t know what to expect from Blake.
Even though the series has done it a few times, I was surprised to have direct continuity with Warlord, as the crew choose to abandon Xenon in case Zukan has told Servalan about it. I couldn’t remember whether Zukan had mentioned Servalan or if the crew are just presuming he might have been in league with her. Considering the risk and the clean-up that the Xenon base would have needed, leaving seems a good idea. Back in Rescue, I was in awe at the amount of wine Dorian had and I’m impressed that Vila has managed to drink it all. He was probably permanently sozzled after Orbit.
Servalan did not appear conspicuously absent from Blake because there is plenty else going on, and I only once gave her a thought (more on that later). Unfortunately though, I do think the lack of a final send-off for her is a glaring omission from Series D. Blake’s 7 set a precedent because Servalan had featured in every series finale, but there is also the simple fact that the character’s story hasn’t been satisfyingly concluded. I was completely wrongfooted into thinking the crew would face her one last time, which wasn’t necessary – Blake has no ‘Gotcha! It isn’t Servalan!’ moment.
We deserved a proper ending for Servalan and overall I don’t think she has been best utilised during Series D. Sand was her best contribution, but even there – given its context, perhaps understandably, especially there – she hasn’t been as intimidating as in previous series. Annoyingly, her Sleer identity has led to nothing; at most, it has simply been an excuse for her to murder people a little more indiscriminately. Yet we had already seen Servalan get away with doing things behind the backs of the Federation authorities. Such was her power, especially as President, that at the end of Series C there seemed no likelihood that any of this would catch up on her. Importantly, during Series D Servalan’s true identity never appeared at risk of being exposed to the Federation, nor did Team Avon think of any way to use this vulnerability against her. Servalan has always looked unsusceptible and an opportunity to turn the tables, to have her on the run from the Federation, would have been fantastic to explore.
Set course for Gauda Prime
The title of the episode made it easy to guess who Avon wants to go and see. Vila seems pleased by this news and it’s hardly surprising that he would be happy to be back with an old friend – now more than ever.
As Avon has known where Blake is for some time, he clearly sees him as a last resort. Is it pride or arrogance? Was he keen to prove that he could fight the Federation more successfully than Blake? Perhaps a stubbornness too: he’s been in command and finding Blake would mean ceding to him as the better leader. Avon really did want to be free of Blake but it hasn’t turned out well.
Like several other places we’ve visited, tension is built by the description of Gauda Prime during the journey there – we see relatively few people once we reach the planet and have reason to hope it stays that way for the crew. Seeing the usually undaunted Soolin offer up such a formidable picture of Gauda Prime increases the sense of foreboding. The highlight is watching the cuts between each character as Avon describes Gauda Prime’s population of “Thieves, killers, mercenaries… psychopaths.” The implication is explicit and although we’ve long known that this lot aren’t good guys per se, by the end, the emphasis feels more appropriate than ever in this episode.
Goodbye Slave and Scorpio
I enjoyed Chris Boucher’s episodes enormously in Series C, so I’ve been disappointed not to see his name in the titles more often during Series D. With him still around for script editing duties, I do wish he had contributed more of the humour he includes with Slave here.
Slave “The ground is very close, sir.”
Tarrant “I know that!”
Having some interaction between Slave and Orac was also nice.
Generally, Slave’s self-deprecation has been irritating without anything else to take the edge off. Redemption provided a background for Zen that meant I was inclined to give him more leeway, while Orac has had a larger personality and meeting Ensor offered more than enough explanation for the machine’s arrogant attitude. I’ve not had anything to stem that same connection with Slave. When Scorpio crashes, it seems like Chris Boucher wants to evoke the same emotions that the Liberator’s destruction elicited in Terminal, but I couldn’t mourn Slave like I did Zen.
I’ve had no great affection for Scorpio either. The model work has looked lovely and the Xenon take-off scenes are gorgeous – so much so that I don’t care how many times they use those shots. However, I find Scorpio’s interior dull in contrast to the sexier Liberator, right down to the ‘wand’ guns over the clip guns; the promising versatility for the latter has never been fully realised.
The Scorpio’s crash on Gauda Prime is stunning – I loved seeing the set destroyed. As bits started to fall and lift up at angles, I could see this was it for the ship. Avon clearly has no other choice but to quickly leave Tarrant alone and once Scorpio goes down, I’m sure we’ve lost him. If this had been Series C, I may well have cheered, but my dislike of Tarrant has cooled. I’m slightly sorry that it looks like he’s going to die alone in a nasty crash.
Dayna, Soolin and Vila’s hideaway for the night does not seem at all secure, especially with them having knocked a hole in it. In the back of my mind, I’m worried about their guns: without Scorpio, they have no way of recharging or replacing the clip guns’ ammunition. This has never bothered me while they’ve been off on adventures before, yet I’m aware of how exposed they are. I can’t help staring sadly at their useless teleport bracelets and it’s all giving me deja vu for the start of Rescue.
When Vila comes round later and clocks Avon, he looks like he’s seen a ghost. Either Vila didn’t expect to see Avon again or perhaps was even hoping not to. He’s increasingly concerned as he’s forced to repeatedly ask where’s Tarrant is. Dayna and Soolin are also suspicious of Avon, wondering whether he deliberately set them up as bait. Before Orbit, Vila would probably have been able to believe the truth, but I think Avon knows Vila will never fully trust him again. I was unsure whether Avon was really taking pleasure in Vila’s panic or just putting-off delivering the bad news.
Blake looks rough. His puffy-sleeved shirt is virtually the only reminder that this is the same man we used to know. I do notice that his white sleeves are surprisingly clean. I’m drawn to his scarred eye; it’s a sign that Blake’s been through plenty since we last saw him and it’s likely been tougher than the Scorpio crew’s lot. I am glad we never learn what happened to Blake because it leaves me room to ponder. I notice that, like Travis, it’s his left eye that was injured, enabling me to imagine a vengeful confrontation between the two.
I spend the entire episode struggling to decide whether we can trust Blake. Mostly, I’m doubtful. I worry the Federation has got to him and he’s been brainwashed because it seems a logical conclusion – I can’t believe the Blake I knew would be persuaded to join them. When I think of Blake now, my mind usually jumps to his determination, including the wonderfully passionate speech he gave in Pressure Point. That is the Blake I’m hoping the crew will find, if he still exists.
However, by the time Blake finds Tarrant, I’m trepidatious. Both men are understandably guarded but I’m suspicious of Blake because I just can’t be sure what he’s up to. There’s anger bubbling in me, making it almost like old times, except the thought that Blake might be betraying his old friends is sickening. I’m concerned for Tarrant and I don’t want it to be true. Please don’t let it be true. Tarrant himself is uneasy on the journey to the base with Blake, even when he starts to realise who he’s with. Ultimately, being told that Jenna is dead will feel like another twist of the screw from this episode.
I was pleased to see David Collings as in the last year I’ve enjoyed him in a few programmes, particularly Sapphire and Steel. Blake offers several elements that are ripe for further exploration and I’d have liked a series that showed how Deva and Blake got together and what they had been up to.
After Tarrant had run off from them in the base, Deva and Blake’s conversation finally spelt out what was going on. It was only then that I was sure this was still our Blake. Oh, the relief! Deva’s words about them needing Blake as their leader feel ominous – when I thought he could be betraying Team Avon, I’d been sure he was going to come out of it. After this, everything is happening fast and I’m still processing us getting Blake back. His echoing of Avon’s earlier sentence, “Nobody is indispensable,” worries me further. Not Blake… The universe needs him.
“Have you betrayed us?”
As Tarrant guns down the base’s staff, I’m horrified – they seem like innocent parties. I let out a long, despairing, sweary sigh. It’s a dreadful mistake. I can’t see any way out of this. The sirens are blaring at me…
It feels like time slows down when Blake and Avon come face to face. I’ve no idea how either one is going to react. I forget that the other crew members won’t recognise Blake, although I feel Avon should surely have got a photo up from somewhere. My mind has been flipping back and forth about Blake but right now, in this moment, I know they need to trust him.
As Avon looks at Blake, begging him to “Stand still!” his face is full of agony. I can see he’s hoping it isn’t true.
“Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?”
It’s wrenching to watch. I realise just how much Avon had trusted Blake and how much faith he had in him. In a moment, it’s all been destroyed. He doesn’t want this but he’s got a split-second decision to make. Please just trust him, Avon. Open your gob, Blake! Tell him! Speak to him! Have a proper conversation.
It’s not fair! It’s not bloody fair! Blake was their last hope and watching Avon shoot him was excruciating – even he is shocked at what he’s felt forced to do. It looks bloody brilliantly awful and Blake’s expression sells us its nastiness – this is not going to be like his Star One injury.
Everything speeds up again and the episode spends several minutes repeatedly hitting me in the guts. There are a lot of Federation troops appearing – have we ever seen so many? Watching Vila appeal to Arlen with “I’ve never been against the Federation” was tragically pathetic and I love that he’s stayed the same desperate, self-preserving coward. I also loved seeing him back-fist Arlen out the way when he got the chance. As each of our crew start falling, watching Vila go hurt the most. Oh, I’ve loved you, Vila! Out of everyone, I think he’s been the bravest of all.
Then there is just Avon.
I didn’t want to watch. Make it stop. No more! I know what’s going to happen. I don’t need to watch this. Should I just close my eyes? Let it end – I can’t stand anymore.
He gives us an Avon grin.
I’m so glad I didn’t shut my eyes.
I am exhausted.
“Nobody is indispensable.”
As a door opened to let in more Federation guards, for one moment I expected Servalan to appear. But she doesn’t belong here. She won’t get to watch Avon die because ultimately none of the crew become heroic martyrs. Their deaths go unwitnessed, they die for nothing, having achieved… what?
Avon’s crew has done nothing significant since Blake left. Blake knew they had to become more organised, do more than just taking out small Federation operations. Yet the crew had no real aims during Series C and every one of their major plans in Series D failed. They leave behind a “reputation for daring” as “ruthless desperadoes” – will that have inspired anyone else? The people we hear these descriptions from – Keilor and Egrorian – are deceptive villains themselves and, combined, this hardly offers an image of admirable heroes. Can there be any genuinely good people out there who would want to turn their backs on the law and order they know to take huge risks with ruthless, desperate acts?
Vila “Where are all the good guys?”
Blake “Could be looking at them.”
Avon “What a very depressing thought.”
In the end, the Blake’s 7 crews are nothing special: just another small group of rebels destroyed by the faceless omnipotence of the Federation – both literally and spiritually; it became impossible to really trust anyone, including each other, when they needed to most of all.
Blake’s previous words to Avon – “I have always trusted you,” – have reverberated and I can’t help but think that if their positions had been reversed Blake might not have pulled the trigger. Even though he tells Deva, “I find it difficult to trust,” it still feels like Blake is the only one left holding on to a belief that some people are fundamentally good. In contrast, Avon remains reluctant to put his life in Blake’s hands, despite Blake probably being the one man who still trusts him. Blake’s faith in humanity is what was needed for a rebellion to gain ground and I’ve just watched Avon blow the bloody guts out of it.
Oddly enough, it’s been during Series D, when he’s seemed so distant, that my sympathies for Blake have increased. I think I’m likely to side with him a little more often on repeat viewings. I don’t think a rebellion needed the increasingly risky desperation of Team Avon; I think it needed to be led with the empathetic determination of Blake.
But did they also need each other? Blake sometimes seemed to struggle with the responsibility that his role gave him – I think he would risk the many to safeguard the few because he wanted to be able to save everyone. Avon’s ability to make more logical decisions, combined with his understanding and acceptance that, “Regret is part of being alive,” enabled him to “Just keep it a small part,” and provided a balance to Blake.
It’s crushing to realise that everyone becomes a victim of what they ran away from. In different ways, Dayna and Tarrant had both fled the Federation: she had been hiding with her father, while Tarrant, as a Federation officer, had deserted. Soolin ends up back on the home planet she never wanted. But perhaps because we’ve been with them all the way, it’s a nasty, bitter irony that Blake, Avon and Vila all meet the same fate they were headed for when we first met them: dying on a grim, lawless planet full of thieves, killers, mercenaries and psychopaths.
Orbit might have traumatised me but Blake simply hurt. My foreknowledge may have removed some of the shock value, yet the story kept me unsteady throughout and I couldn’t have predicted how horrid it would be. It has felt so painful. Part of it is because these are people I’ve spent a lot of time with and consequently I can’t help but care about them. It’s more than that though – it’s seeing the loss of what could have been and the triumph of a regime whose vileness we’ve witnessed again and again in various circumstances. And every single person we saw aboard Scorpio has died so I hope that cursed ship rots forever with not a single scrap of metal repurposed.
Despite the ache that Blake‘s ending left in me, I could hardly have asked for a more satisfying conclusion to Blake’s 7. I love that our heroes are not the heroes: they are just another group of rebels. It’s always seemed a truly shitty universe. It’s perfectly appropriate that the immense and ever-increasing feeling of futility was there until the end.
I feel incredibly lucky to have got so much enjoyment out of Blake’s 7. I’m also delighted that these blogs have helped me to connect with so many of the programme’s fans – maybe we’ll share an adrenalin and soma one day. It’s been wonderful. I’ve enjoyed loving, hating and being undecided about Blake’s 7‘s characters. I’ve been entertained by its guest actors and its stories. I know I want to explore more work from its contributors. I’ve been impressed by its creativity and fallen for some of its design. I’ve learned that I adore model work, and that my love of watching things blow up extends to here. I think I like science-fiction more than I realised. I’m still figuring out why I’ve grown so fond of quarries and industrial estates – the grimmer the better. I’ve had an outstanding amount of fun.