It’s been 25 years since the groundbreaking, low budget British science fiction series Blake’s 7 first aired. Famed for its unintentional campness (some have dubbed it “Abba in space”) and poor quality special effects, the show nevertheless gripped the nation week after week thanks to its dark subject matter and strong characters.
For those too young to remember, Blake’s 7 charted the fortunes of a group of rebels led by the enigmatic Blake, who had been falsely accused of child abuse, as they tried to overthrow the powerful Federation. After Blake’s disappearance the group was taken over by the wily Avon played by Paul Darrow outmanoeuvring their pursuers: the foxy Servalan and the ultimate bad guy, Travis. Although apparently killed at the end of the final series, Avon has survived and is the one remaining character known to be returning for a planned new miniseries set 30 years after the events of the original TV series.
Producers Andrew Mark Sewell, formally Creative Director at BBC Worldwide, and Simon Moorhead, together with actor Paul Darrow have signed a rights deal with the estate of Terry Nation, creator of the series, which gives the go-ahead for the new project.
Pixelsurgeon spoke to Andrew Mark Sewell about Blake’s legacy and what he has planned for the revived format.
PIXELSURGEON: Was Terry Nation the UK’s Gene Roddenberry?
ANDREW: Good question. Given shows such as The Survivors, Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who I can’t think of any other UK creator/writer that has made such a significant and memorable contribution to the genre. I think that it’s fair to say that Blake’s 7 was British television science fiction at its best and was arguably every bit as great an influence on the genre as the original Star Trek series.
What attracted you to Blake’s 7 and made you want to extend the franchise?
I remember watching it as a teenager and like so many it left a lasting impression on me – a great antidote to teatime viewings of Doctor Who! When we were exploring the opportunity of developing a genre based show Blake’s 7 kept coming up in the conversation and when we discovered that the rights were available the temptation to produce a bold new interpretation was too great to resist. It has long been my opinion that British produced SF has remained in the doldrums for far too long and that it was about time that not only Blake’s 7 but British SF as a whole enjoyed a healthy revival.
Part of the attraction of Blake’s 7 was the campness, low budget special effects but most of all the characters. What aspects of the original will make it into the new version?
I think that we can safely say that we will be losing the campness and low budget feel – times have moved on and so must we. For me it was the characterisations and key themes that Terry Nation explored in the original that we ignore at our peril.
What will make the new miniseries essentially Blake’s 7 and not a generic Sci-Fi series that just happens to star Paul Darrow? (I’m thinking of the reception the new Battlestar Galactica has received from fans and critics)
Clearly the mores and values of the audience at large have changed and we need to recognize that fact and deliver a bold new interpretation that whilst acknowledging its heritage also engages a whole new audience. Whilst we are reviving the essence of Blake’s 7 to be too purist and merely regurgitate the old would be creative and commercial folly. As to the opinions expressed about Battlestar Galactica I’ll reserve my judgment until I’ve seen the finished production, but the Producer’s certainly have my sympathy. I just hope that the fan and critical mauling they’ve received turns out to be unwarranted.
How do you think fans will react to the new series; and how important is fan reaction to what you’re planning? How have people reacted to the news of the new miniseries?
The reaction from the media and fans alike has been more that we ever envisaged and largely very supportive. As with all things you’re going to get the odd ‘Doubting Thomas’ and there are going to be frustrations that we’re only in the development stage, but I hope that over the coming year or so people will start to see the project evolve and realize that we have some exciting plans across a range of activities.
Who do you see as the audience for the new Blake’s 7 series? Are you hoping to capture new fans who may not have seen the old series?
I think that for the show to have a long-term chance of success it needs to appeal to the Star Trek demographic, although I think that we’re going to be slightly darker. Notwithstanding that, it must work from an international perspective and by that I don’t mean that we’ll be producing a hotchpotch that betrays its British centric nature/humour. Giving something back to the original fans is a consideration, but capturing and retaining a new audience is absolutely critical.
How much input has Paul Darrow had with the new Blake’s 7
Paul is involved at all stages of the development process. Given his friendship with Terry Nation, he gives us a firm nudge if he feels we’re polluting the core themes of Terry’s creation and steers us back on track.
Servalan played such an important role in the success of the original series, especially the on-screen chemistry between Jacqueline
Pearce and Paul; will there be any efforts to introduce a new vampish seductress?
I agree that the chemistry between Jacqueline and Paul was one of the highlights of the original series, but whilst we’re not looking to replicate the character of Servalan we do intend to introduce a femme fatale to the mix.
Is it possible to reveal with the benefit of hindsight and a new production company why Servalan wasn’t in the final episode “Blake”? Was it behind the scenes wrangling as many suspected?
I wish I could, but despite knowing Vere Lorrimer for many years he never let on. As a character there’s so much you could still do with Servalan and I do feel that she needs a proper sending off – so’s to speak 🙂
The new series is set thirty years or so after the end of the last series; what has changed in the intervening time?
That would be telling but it would be fair to say that Blake’s 7 has descended into the realm of folklore spoken off in hushed tones. The Federation as it was is no more and is clearly in turmoil from within.
Why are none of the other characters, other than Avon, returning? (members of the crew could have been stunned or wounded… only Gareth Thomas [Blake] had it written into his contract that he was to be killed, and Servalan’s whereabouts are unknown…)
It’s early days and we’re some way from settling on everything. But never say never 🙂
How is it possible Avon escaped the Federation gunfire we hear at the end of the last episode?
If I told you that I’d have to shoot you!
Was the last episode of series four a sensible place to end Blake’s 7? Do you think it could have returned in that original BBC format for
Terry Nation certainly thought so and his ideas for another series had certainly moved on from when he first created the show. One of life’s great loses was that he never had the chance to realize his ideas. I only hope that we do them justice.
Do you think Doctor Who, another great British science fiction tradition, could benefit from being updated? Should someone attempt to
buy the franchise from the BBC?
I think that to do Doctor Who properly now you need to pretty much discard the mythology that’s built up around it (there’s a lot of baggage
there) and return to the core ideas that make the show tick and work from there. I’m not sure that the BBC would ever produce a new TV series since their focus seems to be very much upon a feature film revival, which I personally feel is the wrong way to go. Only time will tell.
What can you tell us about the plot beyond the details found on the website?
Nothing. Very much under wraps for now. Are you one of these people that opens their presents the day before Christmas?
Although audiences in the late seventies and early eighties might have accepted a perspex box full of christmas tree lights as a super computer, will the budget for special effects be higher this time around?
Yes, but we’re not talking about a SFX driven show, it’s a drama first and science fiction second. Someone pointed out to me the other day that if ORAC had been designed today he would be a Palm Pilot 🙂
There is talk of “Epic”, “Mythic” and “Gritty” as a description for the new series. Whilst the original series conveyed mythic, how do you
intend to create the epic scope coupled with the gritty reality of the Federation rotting from within.
By solid dramatic writing, good casting and bloody good production design!
Are there any recent science fiction movies or TV series that you’ve used as a benchmark for the new miniseries?
Nothing specifically but as I’m constantly reminded there’s no such thing as an original idea, but there is such a thing as an original interpretation of an unoriginal idea.
How closely are you keeping to Terry Nation’s vision? As gospel or guideline?
Very much a guideline since that’s all Terry had outlined to Paul. The core themes and character dynamics that attributed to the series enduring popularity are very much intact
How far advanced is the production?
Development. We have commissioned the first teleplay and that is due for delivery in the next 10 weeks. After that the show needs to be budgeted, packaged and then pitched to potential co-production partners. There’s a long journey ahead.
When are you hoping to screen the new series?
In an ideal world we’re shooting for 2005 but there are many factors that may move that date forward or back not least broadcaster interest.