Thursday, February 27, 2014

Blakes 7 Rewatch: The Way Back

When I was growing up we caught four channels. One of those channels was PBS. Now, PBS' normal fare is Sesame Street, Nova, educational type stuff. Except on Saturday nights. Late that night they would show British Sci Fi. I would stay up hours past when everyone else went to bed and huddle in front if the TV to watch these shows. Mostly it was reruns of Doctor Who but occasionally they'd branch out. I got exposed to Red Dwarf, Star Cops and my all time favorite show Blakes 7.

Blakes 7 originally ran from 1978-1981. Yeah, it ended when I was about two months old. But man what an ending! Let me not get ahead of myself though. The heavy hitters in the Sci Fi world were Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. Movies and shows with deep budgets. Blakes 7 had a budget of about £40 a week. The costumes were crap. The sets wobbled. Some of the scripts were Swiss cheese in the plot department. And it was still groundbreaking. 

Since they couldn't go head to head with other shows in the special effects dept. they chose to focus on strong characters. That became their bread and butter and the source of their enduring cult following. It was also unique, at the time, for it's uber dark tone. These days it's nothing to have highly flawed main characters or sympathetic villains. Blakes 7 in many ways pioneered those style shows. Heroes that have questionable reasons for doing what they do. Heroes that don't always win. Even heroes that die trying while their comrades have to keep going. Initially B7 was pitched as the Dirty Dozen in space. They scaled that back to seven people following a rebel named Blake. Except, they ran out of money. As you'll see it's more like Blake's five. But who is really counting. 

I've been in the market for a show to rewatch and blog about. I debated Star Trek for a while. I recently re watched the franchise or at least the vast majority of it. But that show is lengthy and very often reviewed. Likewise so is Doctor Who. I toyed with the idea of BSG. The remake not the original. That still didn't grab me although I love that show. Today I forced a coworker to watch the pilot episode of B7 and all of a sudden this just felt right. B7 doesn't have much of a following in the states. At least not like across the pond. As a matter of fact it's completely unavailable except on old VHS. No DVDs, iTunes or Amazon Prime for us yanks. Damn snobby Brits. Still, where there is a will there is a way. The first episode, The Way Back, can be found here

Let's get started shall we? Be forewarned, there will be spoilers. 


Who couldn't take that curly haired British Adonis seriously?

Roj Blake, our eponymous hero, is lead outside of a domed city by a pair of characters who's names won't matter in the next ten minutes. He has been told not to eat or drink for 48 hours. Surgery? Nah. The Federation, do not think Trek here, uses drugs in the food and water to control it's subjects. We're also told that going outside is a category 4 offense. How bad is that? No idea. Why would we bring that back up later?

Outside he meets with a dissident group who are using civil unrest to protest the Feds totalitarian regime. It's revealed that Blake was once a leader in the movement but he was captured and brainwashed into supporting the Government. He's also told that in retaliation his family, who are supposed to be colonists on another planet, we're executed. 

The face of a revolution

While he is wandering around what appears to be an abandoned subway station, sans graffiti, Federation Troopers arrive because surprise surprise there is a traitor in their midst. This is where things start taking a turn for the holy crap. Unarmed citizens who surrender and ask to be treated like the citizens they are get brutally gunned down by faceless soldiers. 

Oh crap! Were these supposed to set to stun?

Blake is captured and taken back to the city where the Ministry of Justice is left trying to decide how to get rid of him. The ministry apparently consists of two stuffy British men and a chubby woman who looks like she should have a tub of chicken and a pack of menthol lights. It's revealed that the only way his memories can return, which they are, is if he has a nervous breakdown, which he has, so they figure that he gots to go. Realizing that killing him will only him a martyr they trump up charges of child molestation to frame him. Yeah, our hero has mental issues and has been accused of pedophilia. Did I mention that this was dark?

Blake is appointed a public defender, because that's gonna help even if this wasn't a kangaroo court, but succeeds in convincing him to dig further. The "justice machine" declares him guilty by way of flashing lights and cheap doorbell sounds and Blake is carted off to a holding cell. Said holding cell is a waiting point before being deported to the penal planet Cygnus Alpha. There he meets two of our future characters Vila Restal a thief and Jenna Stannis the smuggler. Sounds like a bad D&D game doesn't it?

Who brought the ten sided dice?

While Blake sweats it out his defender, who's name I can never remember, proves that Blake was framed and that he was telling the truth about the massacre. He learns this just in time for he and his wife to be assassinated. In the mean time they've moved up the launch of the London, the penal transport, and Blake immediately pisses off a guard. It must be his people skills cultivated as a political leader. As he watches Earth fall away he swears that he'll be back. 

Let's run down the list of darkness in this first episode. 
Massacre? Check
Totalitarian Regime? Check
Hero with a case of the crazies? Check
Charges of pedophilia? Yeah, got that. 
More murder? Of course! Why wouldn't we?

So, how does this episode hold up? Pretty good to be so dated. It suffers from what a lot of sci fi shows at the time did. They were sure all doors would swish open and clothes would be polyester. Because why not? But the story itself is fairly solid at least as a psychological thriller. Future episodes will obviously be more of a space opera but this episode already sets the tone of dark characters doing dark things. I give it a 4 out 5. Stay tuned for episode 2 Space Fall. 

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