Liberation - Review

by Helen Reilly

The popularity of Blake's 7 is something of an enigma. It is palpable, multifaceted, takes on infinite number of forms, and is so nebulous as to be impossible to adequately pin down; a bit like trying to nail water to a wall. What is indisputable, however, is that it is enduring. There have been a number of good, and one or two mediocre or downright bad, efforts published on the series during the 25 years since it first aired, each in their own way attempting to capture the essence that is Blake's 7. The most recent in this line is Liberation.

The first thing that must be said about this impeccably researched and scholarly offering from Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore is that it is far more than just a programme guide. The first thing that you notice about it is how little, really, there is to be critical of. The authors, unlike those of any other Blake's 7 book yet published, with the notable exception of Sheelagh Wells and Joe Nazzaro's Blake's 7:The Inside Story, know their topic intimately. As Alan Stevens once said in a conversation with Paul Darrow "... I watch it very, very carefully!" This detailed knowledge really has given this book the edge over anything that has gone before. In addition, the authors have gone back to the original primary scripting and production material allowing them a greater insight into both the growth of the series and the growth of the characters within it.

The book itself is divided into four main sections that each deal with a different season of the series. There are two appendices at the back. The first gives a brief synopsis and review of a number of other related works including Paul Darrow's book Avon :A Terrible Aspect, with probably the most sensible comments yet made about it, the two BBC radio plays The Sevenfold Crown and The Syndeton Experiment, and Tony Attwood's Afterlife. The second appendix gives synopses of projects the authors have some involvement or particular interest in such as Alan Stevens' The Mark of Kane and The Logic of Empire, Chris Boucher's Corpse Marker, and The Kaldor City series of cds. The book is indexed both by title and by name. Illustrations are crisp, clean black and white photographs taken at the time of production by Steve Camden and Andy Lazell, with more recent images supplied by Andy Hopkinson.

Each section begins with a full production listing followed by an introduction serving as an overview to the themes and conclusions the authors draw from the individual episodes. The photographs have been judiciously confined to these introductory pieces rather than used to illustrate particular points of discussion and are quite effective in creating a feel for the series. There follows for each episode a brief synopsis of the plot line, along with details of both credited and uncredited cast and crew. The episode is then deconstructed and analysed in terms of story arc, plot development and character development, motivation and backgrounding. The antecedents and influences on the writing are covered with some detailed referencing in the areas of literature, film and television. Some discussion on the logistics of production is also included, and whilst this not as detailed as that given by Sheelagh Wells and Joe Nazzaro, it is not central to this book and provides, rather, the framework for understanding aspects of the writing and characterisation that arose as an inevitable consequence of the practicalities of making the programme. A brief final paragraph clearly and succinctly summarises the main points drawn by the authors for each episode.

A not dissimilar approach was taken by John Kenneth Muir in his book A History and Critical Analysis of Blake's 7, the 1978-1981 British Television and Space Adventure, published in the US in 2000. That Stevens and Moore have produced a book along the same lines from first principles, as they state that they had not previously read Muir's work, suggests perhaps that it is a logical format in which to attempt such an analysis. It certainly works very well in the case of Liberation. Here is a thorough working through of the move from story arc in the first two seasons to the more stand alone and self contained episodes in seasons C and D and the reasons for this, with a quite meticulous deconstruction of plotlines that highlights both strengths and inconsistencies. Alongside this is an intricate look not only at the development of the characters but the various strategies they use to interact. This is largely very well done and contains at least one quite radical new thesis.

The fresh look at Gan that moves the character so far away from the Steinbeck 'Lenny' stereotype that he is often taken to be, is one well worth noting. Whether or not the reader agrees with the hypothesis proposed by Stevens and Moore, it is a strongly argued case with supporting details from the scripts, particularly as regards the possible usage of limiter implants by the Federation, on whom and why, and whether Gan's shipmates would have been aware of this. Also well argued is the rationalisation for Avon's, sometimes, violent behaviour towards women. The discussion on the use of sex, sexism and sexuality throughout the episodes is both well done and relevant.

The first edition unfortunately contains a couple of slightly irritating, albeit very minor, errors that are more likely to be due to the editing process than any fault of the authors, and hopefully will be rectified in later editions. Firstly there is the interchangeable use of the letters "s" and "z" in words such as "characterisation" which, for example, appears in both its spellings in consecutive paragraphs on page 18 of the paperback version. Secondly, Janet Lees Price seems to have lost the "s" from Lees in her credits.

Whilst the writing style of Stevens and Moore is evocative and scholarly, this is in no way designed as an academic text and the style suits the subject matter well. The book is accessible and very readable, and in addition to providing something new for existing fans it would also be a fine introduction for someone new to the series. It has been published in both hard back and paperback versions. The hardback will make a lovely collectors item. The paperback is excellent value and definitely to be read. Go buy it, sit back and enjoy.

Back to Merchandise Index

Back to Blakes 7 Index