It’s Autumn 1981. With Series D of Blake’s 7 on the horizon, what better time to launch a magazine devoted to the programme than just before the final series airs? Enter: Blake’s 7 Monthly! In between watching Series D, I’ll be sharing a few features from each issue.
Throughout the magazine, there is no consistency as to what its title actually is. The cover logo says Blakes 7, the editor’s letter says Blake’s Seven Monthly, the editor’s address is Blake’s 7 Monthly, the copyright details say Blakes 7 monthly – all on the magazine’s first two pages!
Who is this woman and where is Cally?!
I really like how colourful this cover is, although it’s strange to have a completely new logo for the programme as well as totally different colours. Even if you were already a fan of Blake’s 7, this all looks so unfamiliar that it wouldn’t necessarily leap out at you from the rack.
The magazine had a certain familiarity because I have previously picked up issues of Doctor Who Monthly (previously Weekly) from around this time. As that was also published by Marvel, the style was similar; for instance, I knew that while the cover was in colour, the rest of the magazine was unlikely to be. The only other colour in the magazine is a centre pullout poster of Avon, a selling point worthy enough to be mentioned on the cover.
Blake’s 7 Monthly is priced at 45p (around £1.74 in 2020) for this October 1981 issue. That colour pin-up has certainly affected the price – Doctor Who Monthly has only recently gone up from 35p (£1.35) to 40p (£1.54) and provides 44 pages compared to Blake’s 7‘s 36. Another Marvel science-fiction magazine, The Empire Strikes Back Monthly, has also been impacted by the recent price increase and offers 42 pages for 40p. It depends what you want from your magazine, but as The Empire Strikes Back Monthly contains only comics with no articles, it wouldn’t be my magazine of choice.
Yet depending on how devoted readers were, this difference could have influenced how they spent their pennies, especially in the coming months. In March 1982, Saturday morning children’s programme Swap Shop reported that the average pocket money for 5-16-year-olds had dropped from £1.15 to 95p over the previous year, with children in Scotland and the North of England fairing even worse at only 78p.
The one compensation for Blake’s 7 fans this month is the launch issue’s free transfer. When Doctor Who Weekly launched two years earlier, it too offered free iron-on transfers. Along with the cover, the Blake’s 7 transfer implies that the programme’s logo is changing. I’ve really enjoyed doodling the Federation’s symbol over the last three series, so I’m sad to see the old one go.
Blakes 7 – the facts behind the smash-hit TV series
Page 3 of Blake’s 7 Monthly and my head may as well be surrounded by question marks. The magazine mentions the destruction of the Liberator and in the same sentence tells us “Cally is murdered”, as though this has already happened. I’m annoyed to hear this – Cally finally gets a decent series and then they are going to kill her off! This section also describes Terminal as being “icy” so apparently Terminal only showed us the warmer parts of the planet. I look forward to seeing this realised to discover whether it was merely a matter of sudden snowfall during the location filming dates.
Over on pages 4 and 5 we get an introduction to Series D’s characters. I had seen some photos of the new woman joining them, who is named as Soolin here. The description of Soolin is a mini-biography and based on that she sounds like she should have ended up hard as nails, which would be interesting to have alongside Dayna as well.
1981’s readers have had almost a whole year to get over the loss of the Liberator but I’m still in mourning for both the ship and Zen.
While watching Series C, I became aware that Blake’s 7 would end up with another ship at some point (thanks to the BBC’s Zoom backgrounds) and it started to seem likely that this would be during Series D. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might mean losing the Liberator at the end of Series C, though in retrospect, junking all the sets at the end of a series makes more sense than keeping them for only a few more episodes. I was interested to learn after watching Terminal that there were originally no plans for another series.
The Liberator’s replacement is called Scorpio and in place of Zen we have Slave, who is described as having “a cringing personality”. I have no clue what to expect, but the rest of the magazine gives a hint.
Comic: Mission of Mercy
“Forget the blasted engine! Three Federation ships are coming this way.”
I am not a comic book fan so have little to compare this too, but I immensely enjoyed it. The Scorpio’s engines are in the middle of being repaired but when Federation security ships approach, Avon yells, “Battle stations!” and they head into action. The panels don’t give us a great view inside Scorpio, with the detail focused on the individuals, but we do get a look at the outside, which is depicted as having a more conventional spaceship design than the Liberator.
After seeing off one ship, Servalan is at the headquarters of the security forces and elsewhere in the magazine we have learned her new title: Commissioner of Security Forces. She demands the crew are hunted down and killed. She wonderfully describes them as, “terrorists led by that cur, Avon!”
Another Federation ship is dispatched and Scorpio rescues a small ship, but it turns out to be a trick and a deadly robot emerges to begin attacking them. Interestingly, the robot is said to have been created by Ensor – like Orac, who uses a similar technique as in Ultraworld to confuse the robot, deploying word riddles.
It is clear that something has gone wrong in the construction of the comic as in one panel the speech bubbles contain lines that are clearly coming from the wrong characters. But otherwise, I was impressed with this. The likenesses are good and the personalities match well enough; it’s apparent that the writer has seen episodes or scripts, with Vila repeating his riddle routine with Orac from Ultraworld and I like being able to sum up Avon with his objection to chasing more Federation ships: “This is madness: we are not threatened by the Federation ship. Why go looking for trouble?” The comic also offers the first glimpse of Slave, the Scorpio’s computer, whose personality comes across strangely with lines like, “I… I’ve never done this before, Master please don’t be annoyed if I don’t get it right first time.”
As I’m used to seeing comics in colour, the monochrome of this era did make me feel cautious at first – I’m not sure why considering I’ve always happily embraced black and white television for its content. The same logic proved no different here and there is a wide range of shading that adds detail. The comic is split into two sections within the magazine and I excitedly flicked through the pages to continue the second part. It was my favourite element of the magazine and I can’t wait for more.
Film review: Condorman
There are several sections of the magazine that have nothing at all to do with Blake’s 7 and are simply banking on its readers being interested in other science-fiction. I’ll be curious to see which ones are kept in future issues. Both the film and book reviews seem like pieces that could have been copied from another of Marvel’s titles.
These features also show that Marvel isn’t entirely sure who Blake’s 7 Monthly‘s audience is yet – something I want to hold off on considering any more until I’ve read further issues. The film reviews here are for Condorman and Outland, but while the former is a U-rated family-friendly Disney film, Outland is rated AA, deemed suitable for ages 14 and over (we’re a year away from the BBFC’s new rating system). The magazine’s review acknowledges that Outland‘s rating “will make it accessible only to our older readers”.
I had never heard of either film before and Condorman sounded so bonkers that I decided to take a look at it. Michael Crawford stars as Woodrow Wilkins, a comic book creator who gets to live his secret-agent dream when his friend in the CIA needs a civilian to covertly hand over documents to the Russians. When he returns, the Russian woman he met contacts the CIA, saying she wants to defect but will only meet with Condorman – the codename Woody used. He heads off to help her escape in an action-packed hour of madness while a Russian-accented Oliver Reed attempts to thwart him.
The first hump to get over is Crawford’s US accent, but it’s more the unfamiliar contrast with a face that’s best known with Frank Spencer’s voice as actually his accent is pretty good. Instead, I found the opening half an hour or so challenging because I was struggling to get a handle on the tone. Woody’s initial meeting with Natalia, the Russian agent, is strikingly inept; the combination of cringey spy talk and physical comedy reminded me of the Johnny English film series, without such masterly achievement. It’s clear that Woody is neither an idiot nor foolish, so this approach did seem odd. Even stranger, it’s turned on its head when he heads off to meet Natalia again in Yugoslavia as from then on he appears far more skilled and knowledgeable with what he’s doing. It felt better once this was maintained though and I preferred the moments of ridiculous action, rather than forced slapstick.
Woody appears to be a great comic book writer and artist and it’s some time until we see why this aspect of the plot is relevant. He’s created numerous superheroes and has constructed the costume of the bird-like Condorman for himself. We see him whisper a request to the CIA before he goes off to bring Natalia over. It later becomes clear that he wanted them to help supply some more of his comic book creations, although these are more in the form of gadgets and include a truck that converts into a supercar. This bright yellow vehicle with maroon details takes part in a lengthy car chase sequence. Woody and Natalia are pursued by several black Porches and escape by flying off the end of a pier as the car converts into a hovercraft and roars away. Despite how fantastic this sounds, the chase itself was the one piece of action that bored me as I felt it went on too long with little variation in either the action or the soundtrack.
Once the main plot kicks in, Condorman never really slows down and just keeps hitting you with its absurdity. It’s an extremely simple plot – I thought Natalia’s defection might be fake because it seemed so sudden – but when you know that you are going into something this daft, you have a good idea what to expect. After viewing it, I can confirm that the magazine’s reviewer sums Condorman up perfectly: “the silliness doesn’t really matter with a movie like this; it’ll be an hour and a half of exciting fun and spectacle”.
Story puzzle: Prisoners of Carpaxia
This story’s style impressed me as we get a huge illustration on the first page, then when you turn over you discover that you have to save Vila and Dayna, which gives you the chance to role-play as Avon or Soolin.
Presented with a map and a key, you have to negotiate your way in and out of a maze. It’s trickier than it first appears as some routes are blocked by locks partway through, while other locks only allow you to pass through them once, forcing you to use a different route on the return journey. You have 24 shots in your guns to blast the Carpaxian Praetors and Narks out of your way, which seems a lot until the key tells you that you need two shots to get past Praetors.
I was rubbish at it and kept running out of shots on the return journey.
Star Profile: Paul Darrow
Star Profile opens with a description from Power, which we are told is episode two of the forthcoming series. I try not to groan too much at the prospect of encountering another Ben Steed story so soon.
I didn’t know much about Paul Darrow’s career before Blake’s 7, nor his background, so I found it an enlightening interview. We get some behind-the-scenes nuggets and I cringed reading that he had chipped a bone in his ankle while on location during the last series.
The interview also gives us some insight into how Paul Darrow sees Avon: “I don’t believe Avon is as bad as many of the people who stop me in the street seem to think. He’s just a realist. He’s also a criminal, which I never forget.”
Advert: You are Earth’s only hope!
I stared at this back cover for some time, trying to work out exactly what it was advertising. It was a game, but what sort of game? Text-based? Shooter? I looked for names of computers I might recognise – surely your game can only be available for certain systems? I didn’t entirely understand what it meant by ‘Adventure gaming’.
When I got further down the page and read through the other games listed, I clocked Dungeons & Dragons and thought, ‘Aha!’ Then I realised that all I knew about playing D&D was that it involved dice, so I found a beginner’s guide and established that you also need a rulebook, paper and pencil, but that’s about it for a tabletop role-playing game. In popular culture, D&D is always presented as extremely nerdy and, having seen it represented in US films and television programmes, I only recently discovered that it was a ‘thing’ in the UK as well. I presumed these games were complicated but that beginner’s guide made me think I’d like to experience it.
I was now sure that all the games listed must be role-playing games similar to D&D… until I skipped ahead a couple of months to issue 59 of Doctor Who Monthly.
A Doctor Who board game is advertised from the same company, Games Workshop, retailing at the same price of £6.95. This seems to demonstrate that unless you sent off for their catalogue, you may not be entirely sure what you were going to get.
This same advert for ‘Attack of the Mutants’ is also on this month’s issues of The Empire Strikes Back Monthly – issue 150 – and Doctor Who Monthly – issue 57.