...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Day 2318: Seven Blokes


Two of whom are bloke-esses and one of who is either a computer or a starship depending on your point of view.

Daddy has already written about the EXCITING new series of audio adventures for BLAKE'S SEVEN, brought to you by the Sci Fi channel, but since they are relying on word of mouth, I thought that I should give them a plug too!

As Daddy has explained, Blake's Seven is Robbing Hoodie in SPACE. Mr Blake is Robin and his crew are the Outlaws; against them is Ms Servalan who is the Sheriff of Nottingham (until she promotes herself to Bad King John) and her Guy de Gisburne is Space Commander Travis.

The creator of "Babylon 5", Mr J Michael Caboose, has often said that his "novel for television" was at least partly inspired by Terry Nation's Blake's Seven. The idea of an ongoing saga that did NOT hit the reset button at the end of every episode intrigued him, and made him realise that DEVELOPMENT was the thing that was lacking from drama on the box.

There is something a bit IRONIC here, because what Mr Terry Nation ACTUALLY wrote were three short mini-serials. The first is "How Blake Got Started" and consists of the episodes "The Way Back", "Space Fall" and "Cygnus Alpha"; second is "Blake versus Travis" made up of "Seek, Locate, Destroy", "Duel" and "Project Avalon"; and finally "Orac" which obviously contains "Deliverance" and "Orac" and sort of "Redemption", though that's obviously written later to try and get them out of the mess that the first two leave them in.

In between are a number of the standard "reset button" type episodes, and essentially each of these mini-series also finishes with everything back in order.

It is only in the second season, which is much more noticeably under the writing direction of script editor and professional grump Mr Chris Boucher – who NEVER GETS ENOUGH CREDIT FOR THIS! – the idea of an ongoing story begins to develop. In the episode "Pressure Point" Mr Blake persuades the crew to make an attack on Earth itself, finally fulfilling his promise made in "The Way Back". His intention is to destroy Federation Control and with one blow cripple the baddies. Except it turns out to be a trap and it costs the life of one of the crew.

Actually getting someone killed is a BIG THING in a television series because it means there has to be a definite ORDER to the episodes. The REASON for the reset switch is so that television stations can show episodes in any order they come out of the tin. But if someone gets KILLED halfway through the second season, then there is definitely a before and after, and you can't show episodes from before after or that person comes back to life!

Except this isn't really so very hard a concept to get your fluffy head around, and SOAP OPERAS have featured developing storylines for AGES, particularly the eighties super-soaps of Dallas and Dynasty. (Although Mr Bobby DID actually come back from the dead!)

Well, killing a member of the crew is SUCH a big thing that it actually makes the next story, "Trial", into "part two" of a two-parter, because it deals with the repercussions and would not make sense anywhere OTHER than immediately after "Pressure Point".

Subsequent episodes "Countdown", "Gambit", "The Keeper" and "Star One" then form a DEVELOPING story as Mr Blake and his crew search for the REAL control centre of the Federation, a secret base called STAR ONE. Obviously, they find it in the last episode of the season, only to discover that it has been overrun by the Daleks completely unknown aliens, who are about to invade the galaxy!

In the third season, Mr Blake and Ms Jenna both DISAPPEAR! (Because the actors have better things to do than play SPACE all the time!) This leads to another huge development, which sees former number two Mr Avon come to the fore as leader, and introduces new characters.

(And IRONICALLY the vicissitudes of fortune would similarly afflict Mr Joe with his "Babylon Project" as actors comes and go over his five years – losing people actually STRENGTHENING the sense of a real ongoing story. One of Star Trek's PERENNIAL problems being: "why does no one ever get promoted off the Enterprise?")

The OTHER irony is that the third season is actually the one with FEWEST inter-connected stories. Thematically, there are a few episodes where Ms Servalan is after powerful allies or artefacts with which to rebuild the Federation, but the sense of the Federation as a renewed and growing threat won't really appear until the following year. Only the first two episodes (setting up the new Liberator crew) and the last one (looking for Mr Blake) can DEFINITELY be said to be VITAL parts of the "overall" story of the show.

In contrast, the fourth and final season is almost ONE LONG STORY. Having managed to get their super spaceship the Liberator BLOWN TO BITS at the end of the third year, Mr Avon spends a lot of his time trying to build a new one, while at the same time Ms Servalan is trying to get herself UN-DEPOSED as ruler of the Federation, and then Mr Avon is trying to find a way that he can form an alliance to defeat her. All of which gets cocked up so he goes off looking for Mr Blake again and so everyone gets SHOT!

So you see, almost by ACCIDENT, Blake's Seven managed to tell a HUGE STORY with a great SWEEP of HISTORY, starting with Blake's little rebellion against a Federation that ends up being smashed by an intergalactic war anyway and then put back together again. Funnily enough, the War is actually caused because Mr Blake and Ms Servalan between them HUMILIATE Space Commander Travis. And the resistance to the rebuilding Federation fails mainly because the only people who could stop it can't stop their inter-personal problems getting in the way.

(And again, compare this plot with "Babylon 5"!)

Though to be fair to Mr Joe, he at least had an idea of where in HIS sweep of history he was supposed to be when writing any particular one of his episodes. Blake's Seven tends to hit the mark more by luck than judgement. Meaning you might get a "Terminal", the stupendous climax to season three, or you might get a "Redemption", the frankly LIMP resolution of the "Orac" story revealing the secret origin of the Liberator to be, er, some girls in blue leotards!

And often when it loses the plot it is because it's stopped trying to remember what's going on in the rest of the galaxy. So you end up with something like the DEEPLY EMBARRASSING "Voice from the Past" when everyone forgets that Travis isn't working for Ms Servalan any more, or the SEXIST DRIVEL of "Harvest of Kairos" which would clearly rather be set in a pre-War Federation and has NO IDEA what Ms Servalan's personality (or indeed RANK!) is supposed to be!

The format for these new audio adventures may turn out to be a strength here. By writing three stories and breaking them into five-minute "chapters" they may have recaptured Mr Terry Nation's original series of serials form. This gives them a chance to have three separate stories that feel longer in themselves without having to "progress" the overall story too much. And indeed it would be a surprise if stories two and three actually DID advance too far. The danger, of course, is that they don't advance at all – but (touch Daddy Richard's head for luck) it seems possible that they do have plans to avoid that. By keeping back the introduction of psychic alien Cally, they have shown that they have a longer term plan, one that will probably involve one of their current "seven" having to, er, make room.

To do Blake's Seven PROPERLY, though, to do justice to the original, you can't just rely on another HAPPY ACCIDENT. You need to think how the big picture is going to develop. Are you going to introduce Orac? Can you make the origin of the Liberator more interesting and more relevant to the rest of the plot? (You can hardly make it LESS so!) Will you play out Ms Servalan's grab for power in the same way? Will there be a War? Will you get rid of Blake at some point? Or separate him from the Liberator and play out following his story sometimes instead of theirs? Will you kill them all off in the end?

Because the thing that made Blake's Seven UNFORGETTABLE was that it WASN'T open ended – it had a beginning, a middle and very definitely an end. Just because they didn't PLAN it that way, doesn't mean that that isn't IMPORTANT. In fact VITAL.

So good luck to the new audio people, and don't forget: [stands over Mr Derek with a big gun] [smiles like a loon] [fades to black] Pow! Powpowpow! Powpowpow powpowpow powpowpow! [cue titles]!

No comments: