The Blake’s 7 fans of the 1980s had a long wait between Series C and D, with the former finishing in March 1980 and the latter not starting until October 1981. This was longer than the usual 12 months or so between series but I actually think it’s impressive, having been informed since I finished Terminal that Series C was originally planned to be the end. The end of Terminal was a wonderful cliffhanger – aspects resolved and yet left open enough to change things – that it seemed like it must have been planned as a way to shake up the series. Getting a whole production back together when they could have made plans to move on to other jobs may have been a fair challenge.
My own break of several weeks looks underwhelming in comparison, especially when I had Blake’s 7 Monthly to keep me going. It had provided a few spoilers for Series D, so I presumed the show’s new set-up would be in place by the end of the first episode; I was surprised when it wasn’t and currently have the odd feeling of knowing more about the characters’ fates than they do, despite not having witnessed it yet.
Logo, titles, music!
The original Blake’s 7 titles were fantastic – there were times when I sat down for an episode and would rewind to watch them twice before we began our adventure. But with Blake gone they had to be changed. I didn’t mind Series C’s version, even if they weren’t so exciting, as they were much shorter.
Series D’s titles were rather dull and I kept expecting something more to happen. It was disappointing that the production decided on a major overhaul yet then ended up with something that literally doesn’t go anywhere. On the other hand, I was satisfied with the end credits and like the credits themselves being on the left side as we zoom further away from a planet on the right side. However, it was also here that I realised that the theme music has also been altered, which did irritate me slightly.
I had got a glimpse of Blake’s 7‘s new branding from the cover of Blake’s 7 Monthly, which used the new logo on the cover. Its colours now seem garish compared to the more subdued red and black used in the Series D titles. This is the one aspect of the new opening titles that I haven’t just accepted, but am in fact increasingly keen on. As much as I love the original logo, looking back, it feels right to have stopped representing our heroes with the Federation’s symbol. I like the new colour combination and overall just find it aesthetically pleasing.
Starter for 13
The most striking thing about Rescue as a series opener is that it’s the only one that doesn’t feel like an appropriate jumping-on point for new viewers. In Redemption, Blake rewatches the Liberator exploding, which fills in anything leftover from Orac. We get a fairly typical adventure but it doesn’t overload viewers with too many details. Although Aftermath is incredibly different from what has come before, it quickly dispenses with the events of Star One. It loses most of the regular cast so viewers can learn things as Dayna does. Having only Avon and Servalan enables us to quickly discover a lot about two key characters.
Yet for Rescue, there can be no opening scene on the Liberator to establish a new plot. It picks up almost immediately after the events of Terminal and it isn’t clear who these people are or why they are here. New viewers might have found it strange that most of the characters are immediately so hostile towards Dorian, who has just saved the lives of two of them. In fact, they may wonder if the first characters they meet are not the main ones they will be following because Dorian initially comes across as far more trustworthy, while arguably the others have skulked about the planet suspiciously. The only hint we get towards who our main regulars really are is in the way they tell Dorian that they are also scavengers, making it clear to the audience that they are not.
But this assumes that the production was interested in attracting new viewers to Blake’s 7 with an approachable opening episode. In reality, I suspect the viewing figures had been doing well enough, even if a few more can be a nice bonus; I haven’t delved into such details yet – they always need contextualising properly anyway. However, a news article in the latest issue of Doctor Who Monthly about Doctor Who moving to weekday broadcasts mentioned that an early evening slot had proved successful for similar shows, including Blake’s 7.
I expected our regulars to spend more time on Terminal during Rescue because I thought the ship Servalan had left them would be Scorpio. Looking back, I don’t know why I trusted her. Yet, from what I picked up from Blake’s 7 Monthly, there also seemed a lot to establish before they could head off for new adventures: Soolin, Scorpio, Slave, and losing Cally.
Blake’s 7 Monthly had casually mentioned that Cally got murdered and I was expecting Rescue to show something more. Cally’s demise presumably comes down to Jan Chappell either declining to return or not being able to. Either way, I do wish she had filmed the first episode to have a proper on-screen demise. I was so pleased to watch more from Cally last series so am disappointed that we won’t see her again.
We don’t get the same sombreness and anger that followed Gan’s death, which annoyed me a little. Yet it was Avon who was closest to Cally and he does end up with a busy day, plus it’s Avon – he was unlikely to show much emotion anyway and we can be satisfied that Cally is on his mind as he quotes her to Dorian. With both Cally and Zen gone, only Avon and Vila remain from the original titular seven.
The Monster in the Cellar
Dorian came across as fairly innocent at first; I took him for a regular chap, trying to scrape a living off scrap – though with principles closer to Del Boy than Steptoe. I believed his ignorance of the ship’s teleport system and his story was convincing. I thought Avon and the others were acting over-cautious once Scorpio had taken off. I believed Dorian completely until they had almost reached Xenon.
Something did feel off-kilter. How could there be a whole base just for two people – two scrap hunters? They wouldn’t have just knocked it up. Surely they couldn’t have just stumbled across something as sophisticated as that?
The new guns that our regulars nabbed from Scorpio seemed complicated and a bit too good to be true, although I had read about them in the magazine. I always like it when Vila is given moments of intellect and his hesitation before grabbing a different additional gun felt like a good idea, but was already a sign of foreboding. The moment everyone stepped onto the base and the door locked behind them, they were on the back foot and no longer had any control.
When Dorian first descended below the base’s surface, I thought he looked different – his hair… but I then presumed I was mistaken – a trick of the dim lighting. I only added up the dots later when he told Avon about having worked on a project for 30 years, despite looking relatively youthful. Naming the character Dorian did seem like a heavy-handed gesture to the source – I would have preferred the more common ‘Gray’, but perhaps we can accept it as nominative determinism.
I hugely enjoyed my moment of realisation when it hit me that the plot was doffing a cap towards Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, with the eponymous character’s ageing portrait in the attic replaced by Rescue‘s underground monster. As I haven’t read the novel, I can’t make any more nuanced comparisons – I’ve only encountered Dorian Gray through The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2004).
We get glimpses into the cupboards on Dorian’s base and they are full of wine. I don’t think the exact content of any of Blake’s 7‘s brightly-coloured alcoholic drinks has been specified before; I’ve presumed it all to be some newly-developed alcohol of the future. Dorian’s huge stock is scarcely dented by Vila and it proved a red herring for me as at first I guessed it must be a restorative potion. I thought we would discover that Vila had gained a few extra months and lost the odd wrinkle from somewhere.
The description of Soolin in Blake’s 7 Monthly had led to me imagining someone younger – little more than a teenager – but she appears a tad older. All we know is that she’s an excellent quick-draw.
I’ve been left wondering how long she had been there with Dorian. At first, I thought she must be in league with him and had to know what was going on to some extent, so I was shocked when I realised she had no idea. How many others had there been before her – how many girlfriends had Dorian had? Had they all been fed to the creature when he grew tired of them, when they got older?
I was looking forward to meeting Soolin but this hasn’t really happened yet because her part in Rescue is tiny. The episode was an enjoyable start to Series D, but it’s my least favourite series opener – admittedly, it has seriously tough competition with The Way Back and Aftermath. Rescue isn’t a big, impressive episode for me and I can understand that the production’s desire may have been to simply get on with an adventure.
However, I think my judgement of what Rescue should or should not have done instead is likely to be tempered when I’ve viewed the next few episodes and hopefully seen how everything slides into place for Series D.
Ooooohhhhh… I’ve so been looking forward to you getting onto these episodes to see what you make of them. At the time, the changes felt like a bit of a shock… and it’s so odd to look back at it now and be amazed at how little changed in some respects.
The point about the “cold” start where viewers were expected to know exactly what situation the crew were in was an excellent observation! These days we’re so used to a “Previously On…” montage to remind us of exactly why Gibbs has and his team have unfinished business with whatever that episode was last season that I can’t quite remember because it was last season…. and yet each year we’d return to ongoing dramas and expect to know *just* where we’d parked the characters, or to quickly understand who was doing what where and why if we were new to the show. In this case, many of the viewers might have been helped by the selected repeat run – “Aftermath”, “Powerplay”, “City at the Edge of the World”, “Rumours of Death”, “Sarcophagus”, “Ultraworld”, “Death-Watch” and “Terminal” – which had aired in the usual Monday 7.15pm slot from 1 June to 20 July, after which the slot had been given to the short-lived “Freebie and the Bean” TV-spin-off until the former Liberator crew returned in late September.
Gosh! I do love this blog! You’re bringing back so many happy memories *and* making me see all this old stuff in a new way! 🙂
All the best
The idea of Dorian’s longevity is an excellent explanation when you look back on it. Coupled with his need to feed the creature in the basement, you can imagine him seeking out clever associates he can use to help him create his base and equipment, then getting rid of them when they are no longer needed. We know he met Ensor, which may have been to do with the creation of Slave (there aren’t too many talking computers in B7, at least ones that don’t just croak the occasional phrase); Soolin may have been brought in to help develop or test the clip guns, and presumably the Liberator crew (or at least Orac) could also help with the teleport.
Jan Chappell was going to come back for several episodes, then one, then eventually said she’d only record a line or two. The downside of this (apart from her perfunctory off-screen death) is that the first half of the series is written with parts for Cally. The dialogue was shared out amongst the other characters and Soolin brought in to replace her. Without knocking the earlier episodes, you’ll find the series really gains strength in the second half of the run, when the new scenario is bedded down and the scripts are written for the the actual characters they have. Soolin’s name was inspired by Chris Boucher’s wife’s name, Lynda.
It’s been great vicariously coming to the episodes afresh through you HE, and it’s noticeable that the B7 Monthly has already made a dent in that, unfortunately. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.
The new titles were designed by Doug Burd at the BBC. He was mad-keen on flying and sadly died shortly afterwards in an aircraft crash. It was his passion for flying that led to the ‘control panel’ type titles. An early issue of SFX described the planet they’re taking off from as a chocolate meringue!
Anyway, I love the snake-creature in this. Also some great exchanges:
Vila: You wouldn’t like to leave the gun, would you?
Avon: That’s right, I wouldn’t.
Vila: You know what it looks like, Avon.
Avon: Shut up, Vila!
Dorian: Avon and Vila…
(Thinking about it, Avon’s line is almost Dad’s Army’s “Don’t tell him, Pike!”)
Vila notices there’s an extra glass on the tray, a nod to Cally and the notion of Seven – just as when Dayna tells Vila he has a lot of clever associates. “Oh yes? Name six.” Six plus himself adds up to seven, of course.
Jan was never going to come back, they tried to persuade her to do a few episodes, then one but she said no every time, the most she would agree to do was those few words. She was sorely missed in S4.
Personally, I really dislike S4 and Soolin is so wooden she would be at home in a forest. The beginning of the episode was promising, but the whole Dorian and the creature thing was way off kilter. The tone of the show shifted so much in S4 and not in a good way.
I will stick to the excellent S1 to 3.