Issue 3 is the final edition of Blake’s 7 Monthly to be released while the programme is still on air and I can’t help but feel a tad sorry for the team behind it. Ideally, the magazine would have been launched after Series B and it could then have had a fairly decent lifespan while the show remained in production and on air. As it is, the magazine is still finding its feet when there are only a handful of episodes left.
December’s edition is my favourite cover on Blake’s 7 Monthly so far. I like the layout; it doesn’t look too cluttered, and I think the slightly shadowy image of Tarrant straddling the surface of Virn is great. I’m intrigued by the competition to win a ‘DATABASE ELECTRONIC VIDEO GAME COMPUTER’ because I have never heard of one.
After seeing what Look-In can put together for less than 20p, I’m now more baffled than ever about what sets these magazine costs. Blake’s 7 Monthly only has a few more pages but still costs more than twice as much! One thing pushing their price up could be the sheer number of fonts used throughout the magazine – at times, it seems as though they are purposefully trying to use as many as possible.
Zap! Kam! Pow! A Sci-fi punch-up!
The opening feature provides us with some behind-the-scenes action shots from several fight scenes. Few of them are particularly clear really, though I’m unsure if it’s the camera adjustments or simply my magazine scans that means it’s difficult to make out Josette Simon’s features. These rehearsal images do feel a bit static and the angles aren’t fantastic, but I think the first one of Paul Darrow chinning Harold Messias is super. I also love that we can see producer Vere Lorrimer’s clipboard with ‘VERE’ spelt out in what appears to be either masking tape or Tipex.
An exciting opening to this month’s comic has two Federation officers being pursued in a ship by Servalan. Pangal betrays his colleague, taking their ship’s escape capsule before landing on Xenon. He’s rescued by Avon, who soon regrets it when Pangal tries to turn the crew over to Servalan in exchange for a pardon. The crew overcome Pangal and make a hasty escape, realising they can’t return to Xenon until Servalan has disappeared.
Avon is depicted particularly harshly in this story, berating Tarrant for having the audacity to undertake repairs when they could be attacked at any time. For once, I’m on Tarrant’s side. Avon hesitates over whether to rescue Pangal when he is hanging in the jaws of a wonderful looking water creature while Avon tells him, “A little pain is good for the soul…” Later, he sends Pangal to Servalan via the unrepaired teleport. I wasn’t entirely sure what is supposed to have happened to Pangal: ‘A shattered image materialised in front of Servalan.’ Pangal’s body looks frozen, as though he’s possibly paused, screaming at the moment of death.
It’s therefore odd that Avon is explicitly shown to avoid killing Servalan when he had the chance because, “Our triumph comes from her humiliation” and he then tells her, “Death, Servalan that is your trade, not mine, no…”
I liked this comic and I continue to enjoy the artwork especially. I’ve been pleased since most of the crew had a change of outfits mid-series and we see the details here. There are a couple of specific panels I liked from Renegade: one just for the detail of Servalan’s swinging earring, and another for its angle depicting the underbelly of Scorpio, which is something we rarely see on screen.
Quiz: Could you fly the Scorpio?
There is no Story Puzzle this month but instead we get a quiz that asks: ‘DO YOU HAVE THE QUALITIES TO MAKE A GOOD SPACE FLIGHT COMMANDER?’ It turns out I don’t because I prefer weight lifting to jogging, don’t know how to wire a plug and struggle with mental maths – I still can’t figure out where I went wrong with question 7. The best answers weren’t obvious so I enjoyed thinking about them and this was one of my favourite features this month, even if I am destined to wash Star Fleet’s dishes.
Have a go yourself – the answers are at the end of the blog.
Star Portrait: Steven Pacey
Star Portrait/Star Profile – the magazine doesn’t seem entirely sure which title to go with for its cast interviews. Steven Pacey is this month’s choice and therefore also occupies the centrefold’s pull-out poster. While I’m sure a few fans were pleased, I do think the editor is missing a trick as we haven’t had a poster of any of the female crew yet…
Happily, Steven Pacey seems a lot nicer than Tarrant. He’s younger than I thought and I feel less bad at presuming him to be nearer 30 when he says that Tarrant “was supposed to be in his mid-thirties”. I’m intrigued by his description of “playing the role as tough and mean as I could with a gruff voice” at his audition, which meant he had “been stuck with this silly voice in the series ever since!” Having only heard Steven Pacey in Blake’s 7, I’m now left curious what he really sounds like!
The interview takes a random turn towards the end as it states: “As a Gemini, Steven is supposed to have a dual personality. Does he believe in such things?” He doesn’t, but this interviewer was clearly into astrology as in Issue 2‘s interview with Michael Keating they were also keen to tell us that, “Like all Aquarians, Michael exhibits a longing for travel”.
Competition: Win a super database video game computer!
The reason I haven’t heard of a ‘DATABASE ELECTRONIC VIDEO GAME COMPUTER’ is that it isn’t the item’s actual name. Blake’s 7 Monthly is in fact giving away a Voltmace Database.
I’ve got a reasonable knowledge of early home computer systems and I could recognise an Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum or BBC Micro, while names like Amstrad and Dragon are also familiar to me. Voltmace Database is not; however, I know there were a lot of new systems entering this burgeoning market at the time.
I’m also aware that many of these computer systems were home-grown in the UK, which makes me slightly sceptical about the magazine’s claim that this one ‘is the only all-British games computer on the market’. There are various bits about the Voltmace Database online and I can’t find anything to back this up. After originally being manufactured in Hong Kong, production was transferred to the UK from June 1981 but the Sinclair ZX80 and ZX81 seem to proceed this. Both the Voltmace and the Sinclair systems have CPUs from companies based in other countries, further muddying what ‘all-British’ is supposed to mean.
I’m amused by the description of the computer’s ‘stylish main unit’ because a search for colour images shows that the Voltmace Database was designed in orange, cream and gold. It’s far from my idea of a ‘stylish’ computer in any era but I can imagine it blending in with a 1981 living room that still bears the marks of fashionable 1970s’ decor.
The Voltmace Database may not have enjoyed the popularity of other home computers that were entering the market, but it’s likely that this was the first gaming system that the competition’s winners owned. They also get a choice of four games (out of 21 available), bringing the prize value up to £110. It’s the equivalent of over £400 in 2020 and therefore almost as much as a PlayStation 5.
The magazine’s target readership is made clear in the terms and conditions for these competitions, which state that all entrants must be under 18.
Points of View
This may be the most unoriginal name for a letters’ page after simply ‘Letters’ but I’m just happy that the magazine now has one as I’m keen to hear from the Blake’s 7 fans of 1981. Most of them are keen to show their fan credentials, with three of them stating how long they have been watching.
I’m struck by a couple of things in Charles Melvin’s letter. First, he says that he waited for the arrival of Blake’s 7 Monthly after hearing about it being made and another letter writer, Steven Pagomenos, mentions this too. Steven also refers to publicity work for the magazine that contains artwork, so I’m curious to know where they might have heard about Blake’s 7 Monthly beforehand. Although I’ve looked at a few other Marvel UK publications and there were no adverts to be found, my search certainly wasn’t thorough.
Secondly, I paused for thought upon reading Charles’s remark that ‘It was great to see a picture of them (the original crew)’. I am used to being able to watch most things I like whenever I want and even when time and money meant that wasn’t possible, since secondary school I’ve been able to patiently download images of varying quality from the internet to print off and stick on my bedroom walls. But if Charles hadn’t had the foresight to cut out photos from the Radio Times or any other publications, perhaps Issue 1’s photo was the first time he had seen the original crew for two years.
I’m fond of Charles’s phrase ‘at the time of Blake’ for the earlier series and his sign off of ‘Yours Blake’s Sevensly’ is an interesting way of demonstrating his dedication to the show.
Elsewhere, I agree with Mark English that Vila’s Gags should be dropped. It feels like filler and they would do better to replace it with an expanded letters’ page now. Although Charles was pleased to see the original crew, Emily Brooks still wants more coverage from at the time of Blake. From a publishers’ viewpoint, it makes perfect sense to focus on the current series being broadcast, but it seems inevitable that the magazine will start to look at the earlier stories once Series D has concluded.
From the tone of Steven Pagomenos ‘s letter, I reckon he is in his late teens or early twenties. He doesn’t have anything good to say about Blake’s 7 Monthly at all, criticising the magazine’s artwork and writing. He points out that facts about the show ‘are copied word for word from the BBC’s ‘Quick Guide to Blake’s 7”. This was an information pack sent out to fans by producer David Maloney’s production secretary, Judith Smith; therefore I’m inclined to think few people had seen the details in it and Steven’s assertion that they had been ‘published’ before is unfair.
Steven goes on to say, ‘Many of the programme’s fans are adults[.] your magazine talks in an oversimplified manner […] why don’t you make it like the Doctor Who Monthly that is better for the fan and very enjoyable to read.’ If there is a constant across the universe, it is that Doctor Who fans will find something to moan about – and apparently if they aren’t moaning about Doctor Who, there are other things to complain about.
Steven has plainly failed to grasp that many Blake’s 7‘s fans are children and Blake’s 7 Monthly is written primarily for them. While Doctor Who Monthly may be better for some fans, by 1981 it’s clearly quite a different magazine from when it launched as Doctor Who Weekly and will no longer be read by some of the show’s very youngest fans. One of the long-term consequences of this is that when the show is revived over two decades later, the 21st century’s young fans get their own separate publication in Doctor Who Adventures. Its lengthier run has also helped Doctor Who to gradually acquire a large number of passionate adult fans and despite the fact Blake’s 7 feels as though it’s pitching slightly older in its content, it has kept its early evening broadcast slot – the same type of slot that Doctor Who plans to move to next year.
I disagree that the language in Blake’s 7 Monthly is ‘oversimplified’; it just isn’t any more complicated than necessary – personally, I enjoy reading something that is engaging yet doesn’t require a great amount of mental effort. The photomontages and the comic provide readers with features that aren’t too text-heavy, while the interviews and short stories offer more challenging reading, so I think the magazine does offer a good balance.
With only four readers’ letters, it does feel as though the viewpoints are a bit limited and in fairness, they were asked to write in on their opinions about the magazine, not the programme itself. I also sense that publication deadlines may also mean that these writers had only seen Issue 1 so opinions could change as more issues come out.
A new feature this month, Shuttle Payload is going to be bringing readers details about the work being undertaken by NASA’s new Shuttle system. It’s another addition to the magazine that indicates the publication is keen to offer more space and science-fiction related material beyond Blake’s 7 to its readers.