Blakes 7: Star Fall
May 3, 2016 1:06 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Blake, Jenna and Vila (and some other potential members of the eponymous Seven, who may or may not make it to the end of the episode) take an all expenses paid cruise to the mysterious planet, Cygnus Alpha... and you won't believe what happens next...

… unless you guess they try to take over the prison transport, and then manage to steal a mysterious alien ship that has been abandoned after a huge battle the puny humans have no idea who is fighting who, and they still head off to the mysterious planet Cygnus Alpha anyway, because Blake is just that kind of a stand-up guy.

All while seated (or standing) in what is the 1970s lounge room, redesigned as a space ship.

And we meet Zen!

We meet Gan and Avon, who were just out of shot last episode, Leslie “Chief Bast” Schofield puts the moves on Jenna, who appears to be the only woman locked up with a ship full of criminals for an eight month voyage.

Some fun quotes:
VILA: Nervous? I'm not nervous. Just... poised for action, that's all.
AVON: You've got an army of five, Blake. Five and HIM! Do you still think you can take over the ship?
BLAKE: If you do your bit.

AVON: Listen to me. Wealth is the only reality. And the only way to obtain wealth is to take it away from somebody else. Wake up, Blake! You may not be tranquilized any longer, but you're still dreaming.

JENNA: How do you feel?
BLAKE: Sick.
AVON: So you should. What a fiasco. You could take over the ship, you said, if I did my bit. Well, I did my bit, and what happened? Your troops bumble around looking for someone to surrender to, and when they've succeeded, you follow suit.
posted by Mezentian (11 comments total)
The story continues...

The opening shot of this episode has Gan in the foreground, and a short time later, there is a shot across the passengers and Avon is in the foreground, which is nicely done; and this episode sets up some of the tension between Avon and Blake that is a mainstay of the show. Blake trying to convince Avon to help, and Avon deciding to go along with the plan purely to save his own skin, you can sense he doesn't care about Blake, unlike Jenna, who is clearly falling for him. And this episode sets up the "Avon as a bit of a lone wolf" idea, with this dialogue:

Blake: "What went wrong?
Avon: "I relied on other people"

Which isn't really addressed until a much later episode and we find out a bit more of the backstory of what actually happened, and why Avon is the way he is.

Villa acts the fool, tricking the guard into watching him perform tricks (stupid guards, can't the Federation do better?) and Gan assisting him. One good thing with these first two episodes is that is is not certain who will become part of the seven, as people can be killed at any point. Gan doesn't have much to do, to be fair.

The crew of the ship are an interesting bunch, the old guy who is in charge seems a bit more resigned and pragmatic, whereas Reyker is a total bastard. The part where the captain says to him, of Jenna, "be discreet" is pretty shocking, especially for a prime-time BBC show. There is some nice technobabble on the bridge (and even Jenna gets in on the act with "The Hyperdrive needs destressing"!) and the device that looks like a walkman that the guy uses to "study" is pretty funny. As is the turbulence in space idea.

The scheme to get to the computer control panel and take over the ship is a neatish idea,if a bit unbelievable that they can sneak into the walls of the ship that easily, and the guy who is killed with the foam when the ship is hit - christ, what a gruesome way to die. The computer control looks a bit 70s Tardis console-like, which made me laugh.

But in the end, all the plans come to naught, as the others are captured, and Reyker, who seems to have gone mad because his authority was flouted, starts shooting people to make Blake give himself up, which seems like the culmination of a sort of power struggle, that begins when he makes Blake call him "sir," and even in calling Reyker "sir" Blake comes across as intransigent!

So they find the Liberator adrift in space after some space battle which doesn't involve the Federation - I like how the space battle is not related to the Federation and establishes that there are alien races out there, without the need to see them. So they establish a tunnel between the ships which is a cool looking, but very 70s looking sci-fi device. The bit where it comes out of the model is kinda funny, as the tube is huge! And eventually Blake, Avon and Jenna manage to kill whatever it is that has taken control of the ship, and now it is theirs (although it isn't named until the next episode when the ships and/or its computer link with Jenna...) and mad nasty Reyker is killed by being sucked into space (to cheers from the home crowd!)

Another good episode, the show continues apace, there are the three of them and the ship now. The weirdest part was the crazy telepathy the energy being uses on them, and the cool twist that it doesn't work on Blake as the memories are fake!!

Stay tuned for next week, when Gareth Thomas fights Brian Blessed!
posted by marienbad at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stay tuned for next week, when Gareth Thomas fights Brian Blessed!

You mean, of course, BRIAN BLESSED. :)
posted by Mezentian at 5:17 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


One of the best sci-fi characters, along side Garak from DS9, of all times, IMO. Smart, morally ambiguous, complicated, and marvelously well-acted by Paul Darrow, despite the weird phallic devices they give him as computer hacking tools (WTF show?). I think he's torn, really, between his desire to be the lone wolf, but also his recognition (bc he's smart to see this) that sometimes he needs other people, even if he wishes he didn't. I think it's what makes his relationship with Blake so interesting. Blake is very open about needing Avon's talents, but Avon doesn't want to have to rely on anybody else. I think Avon hates Blake (a little? a lot?) because he recognizes that Blake is useful to him.

And yeah, this episode continues the trend of B7 going there, hinting at all sorts of menace. Great stuff!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:07 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

"I think Avon hates Blake (a little? a lot?) because he recognizes that Blake is useful to him."

Yes, totally. I think at the start Avon hates him a lot, but realises Blake might be useful to save his own skin, and avoid going to Cygnus Alpha, but after a time he comes to hate him less (season 1) because he sees how the others follow him, although there is this ambivalence there as Avon is aware that no-one would follow him in the same way. After a while I think he resents this as much as anything, and then Blake's determination to hit the Federation where it hurts leads him to hate Blake more.
posted by marienbad at 7:58 AM on May 4, 2016

, despite the weird phallic devices they give him as computer hacking tools (WTF show?)

If I recall, they're just oddly souped up screwdrivers with extra bits.
posted by Mezentian at 8:00 AM on May 4, 2016

, despite the weird phallic devices they give him as computer hacking tools (WTF show?)

To be fair, there's a practical reason behind it too. Even today, if you're working on circuit boards and all things electrical, there's a diverse selection of tools you would use everyday that are equally "weird phallic devices." Soldering irons, continuity probes, tone generators for tracing lines, etc,. all would qualify for that description, and with a quick paint job and some little doodads glued on, could fit right in on a B7 set.

The overall aesthetic of B7 props and costumes also reflect the mindset of human culture in the B7 universe. Boxy and practical is the standard, whether you're talking about tools, guns or clothing. Most humans in the Federation wear clothes that are mostly of the jumpsuit or tunic design, and the colors are often muted. They may have some slight decoration, but overall the best they get is the look that slightly reminds one of a successful 17th century merchant. Women have options with a bit more variety, but there is still a limit to what is acceptable for your class. Elaborate, extravagant, colorful, and showy designs are a usually mark of class, wealth, and power, indicating a more elite position where certain norms and rules don't apply. A bit like pre-revolution France, I suppose. It's a demonstration wealth by displaying of what they can afford and it's a display of power to announce their position without having to say anything.*

If you contrast the prop design with a show such as Star Trek, the differences are striking, even in the original series. Even though the insides of ships are very boxy, almost all of the handheld props are designed with rounded contours to varying extents. In many ways, it's comparable to the differences in Windows/PC devices vs. Apple. Since elegant design is not worth wasting on the masses in B7, the average device is only concerned with function. The Star Trek universe is generally a more egalitarian place (at least within the Federation) with little need for a class-based dress code. The only info you can reasonably gain from a Federation citizen by their dress is their probably occupation. Generally, any display of elaborate or extravagant design is more about expressing who they are as an individual (something that's certainly not encouraged in the B7 universe).

While I have no outside evidence to back this next idea up, and I might very well be reading way too far into things, but I think it could be argued that another significant factor that might have influenced these differences between these two show's design aesthetics is the difference in number and interactions with alien/non-human populations. Star Trek is a diversely populated universe that's influenced by countless cultures, while in B7 it's the exact opposite. It's only a vague conjecture at this point, but I thought it worth bringing up.

A few thoughts on Federation Culture, History, Aliens, and Human-ness
(no real spoilers about future episodes, and any references I have are from small, incidental bits of dialog that I hope won't spoil anything)

In B7, "civilized" aliens (i.e. non-monsters) are rarities in Federation space. There are a few around, but they are usually either so human-like they be able to at least pass as human (one of which we will meet in an upcoming episode), avoid human interaction, and/or remain in isolated areas of space. B7 is set 8,000-10,000 years from now, and over that time there seems to have been multiple waves of colonization and expansion between the collapse of one or two galactic regimes before the Federation as we see it now came to be. This is why there is such a wide spectrum of technological advancement across the various worlds. There are many similarities between this and Asimov's Robots/Empire/Foundation universe. Humans no longer are even sure Earth is the original home planet anymore.

Also, there are a few references to people being born and raised under a caste system, a la Brave New World, but we don't know how extensively that was used, as the only one who most frequently brings up his grade is Villa. Avon mentions once that he was 'not entirely human,' but that was probably just his sardonic humor. It's possible that this caste system was fully in place only on Earth and the major Federation systems. People within the Federation seem to make a distinction between humans from places outside or on the edges of the Federatrion, with the term 'alien' being applied just as easily to someone from a distant colony as they would to some bug-eyed, tentacled monster the size of a house that just ate their family.

This more 'literal' racism seems to have taken the place of racism based on skin color, and possibly had its roots going back to the early days of colonization. There are references to the "Stock Equalization Act" in those early days that required every colony ship's population to be comprised of representatives of every race on Earth. This law, combined with the removal of a significant amount of race-based social, geographic, economic factors and the reinforcement of a monoculture both en-route and upon arrival may have brought an end to that old form of racism. However, a controlled and structured society like the Federation would also foster a certain amount of exceptionalism amongst its citizenry, and those troublesome outer worlds with populations perhaps a few thousand years separated from them make them enough of an 'other' for the Federation to tacitly support such a prejudice to an extent to further their own ends.

There are things to be said about the Liberator in regards to certain parts of this, but that's probably best left until later on in the series.

One last question - I'm not going overboard with these long posts, am I?
posted by chambers at 2:18 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

One last question - I'm not going overboard with these long posts, am I?

Nope. Not at all.

B7 is set 8,000-10,000 years from now,

I have seen a date for B7 somewhere recently, can't recall where, but I didn't think it was that far out.
I do think you're right about the waves of colonisation, with mutant strains being the cause of splinter groups of near-humans.

It's a demonstration wealth by displaying of what they can afford and it's a display of power to announce their position without having to say anything.*

That's an excellent explanation for some of the most ... interesting clothing we'll see. I like it.

Incidentally, I found the answer to why Avon et al don't sound like Terry Nation:
while Nation created the plots, Boucher provided a great deal of input into the characters and dialogue.[4] According to Boucher, “Terry came up with the characters, he came up with thirteen good stories, but he didn't come up with the dialogue. I remember saying, and I think it's pretty close to the truth, that for a long time, Paul Darrow [playing Avon] never spoke a line that I hadn't written or altered to make the lines sharper”.[9] Spoilers, obviously.
posted by Mezentian at 3:10 AM on May 8, 2016

One last question - I'm not going overboard with these long posts, am I?

Oh God no! This is one of my favourite tv programs ever, and to read long, erudite and fascinating comments like yours about it is fantastic and so so interesting. I remember back in the 90s when they were doing all the look back programmes, dissecting tv programs from the 70s and 80s, and B7 came in for a ton of abuse, and I fucking hated all of that as I love B7. So what if the sets and props are cheap, the stories, in general, are very good, and it is so different to pretty much all other tv sci-fi. Yeah, there are ropey episodes and ideas, but heck, that's true of almost every tv programme ever made. (I read recently that S4 of GoT was a bit ropey, so even that has its dodgy episodes.)

Rant over. Moving on to the substance of your comment: I love your ideas about the clothing, and they will ring even truer later in the season when the Queen of the Galaxy herself appears. And the idea that they are all dressed in a fairly utilitarian way sounds right. Everybody wears fairly practical clothing until Jenna discovers the walk-in wardrobe on the Liberator, and then they get to wear slightly different stuff, which helps as another way to set them apart from the Federation and its citizens.

I love your ideas about the alien races and the reasoning for the differing technological levels around in the galaxy, and that, after thousands of years, there is this cosmopolitan feel to the galaxy with aliens who were once from Earth having become "aliens."

Great stuff, chambers and everyone, I am enjoying this. Does anyone else want to move to doing 2 episodes a week, or am I the only saddo with no life around here?
posted by marienbad at 7:40 AM on May 8, 2016

I have seen a date for B7 somewhere recently, can't recall where, but I didn't think it was that far out.

I can't remember where exactly I had seen the 8k-10k time frame I had remembered from many years ago. The only thing I do remember about it was that I too thought it was much further out than I expected. So in an attempt to cover the possible options, here's what I've found.

I went back to see if I could find some citation within the show, and came across this handy collection of every time a form of time measurement was used in the series. Using that as a starting point, we can being the journey from 'not sure' to 'flummoxed,' making a few stops along the way.

First, it seems that no absolute date was set by Nation at the beginning, so there are inconsistent references in the scripts. So it seems we need to work back via several routes, the Federation, the technology, and the colonies.

From the Sevencyclopaedia:
Federation: An oppressive dictatorial regime with varying control over an unspecified portion of the colonised galaxy. Fan lore often refers to the events in the series taking place in "the third century of the Second Calendar", but there is no canonical support for this. In Pressure Point Blake referred to the Federation starting to expand 200 years before his attack on Control. In the same episode he told Gan of the Federation destroying all churches at the start of the New Calendar. Reference to an "Old Calendar" was made in Countdown. It is tempting to place the Federation's origins with the early years of the New Calendar, but there is no conclusive evidence to support this, and the two probably do not coincide - the date before which Blake allegedly molested Carl Deca, Renor Leesal and Payter Fen is shown in The Way Back as 52.6.8, suggesting that the New Calendar year is probably either 152 or 252. If the New Calendar was introduced by the Federation after its expansion from Earth, it is 52 or 152, if before then 252 (or even 352, 452 etc). This of course assumes that the dates given in The Way Back are conventional ones and not in some notation peculiar to Blake's era.
Additionally, there is some references to a war on Earth that left large areas of the planet uninhabitable, and was part of the reason most of the world's population lived in large dome-shaped cities. Recovering from such a war would have taken a considerable amount of time, which would have had the effect of severely delaying any significant expansion into space by limiting both available resources and the focus on technological advancement in that area. That in itself could add several centuries to the calculation.

So if we can't use the calendar itself, the next oldest human-made thing we find in the series is a 700 year old Wanderer Class ship in the "Killer" episode*. It was bound for the 61 Cygni system, 11.4ly from Earth. With records of the ship going missing still available in historical archives, and those ships being one of the earliest series of interplanetary spacecraft, it presents a decent argument for the events in B7 to take place no earlier than 900 years from now. The extra 200 years is for the time needed to have the technology to design, build, and launch it to a system that far out, considering that there would have been earlier missions sent first to systems that are much closer to us than 61 Cygni, and to allow for at least a series of round trips at sub-light speeds to a system like Alpha Centauri (@ 4.73 ly) to complete. At present, there is promising research into a plan (Breakthrough Starshot project, end of this article) that could get very small probes to Alpha Centauri in 20 years, at a max speed of 20% of the speed of light. Given the time needed to scale that up to a manned vessel and have the infrastructure needed already present in our solar system to justify sending a ship that far out on a 30 year trip (meaning it would have to travel at about 45% of the speed of light for the Wanderer Class ship to reach 61 Cygni in that time). So the additional 200 years is a fair estimate. So 1000 years in the future seems to be the absolute earliest that the events in B7 can happen. Additionally, we don't know at what point faster-than-light travel was introduced, which would directly affect the rate of colonization and the speed of trade and industry throughout occupied space. The additional travel time could add centuries to the total time that has passed.

Finally, we need to consider the colonies, and that's where things get a lot more confusing, because unless you rely on the assumption that humans originated from Earth and expanded out, trying to separate human-like aliens from real humans will run you in circles. So, assuming that, the timeline needs to go further into the future to account for the various histories of the colonized planets. These planets fall into two categories:

1. Those who have advanced, stable societies that trade and interact with other systems, with the technology level reasonably close to the standard you see in the core Federation worlds.

2. Those that have at some point had their civilization collapse, regressed to a pre-industrial state, and are in various stages of rebuilding or further decline. This seems to indicate that at some point in the past - at least several generations, and in many cases, dozens of generations ago, whatever the central Earth government was, it was unable to prevent such collapse at one or more times in the past, much like how the outer territories of the Roman Empire were left on their own as the empire fell and the Dark Ages came. The cities and territories that were closer to Rome and the Mediterranean fared much better through this time, and would be much like the planets in the first category.

If you consider the amount of time it would have required to colonize all these different worlds - the resources and the infrastructure needed to build, manage, and support an interplanetary Empire/Federation, then to have that system collapse and be rebuilt once again, 1000 years or so seems an awfully short span of time to bring things to the state that they are in Blake's 7. That said, the 8,000-10,000 year span that I gave earlier still seems high.

So after all this, what seems reasonable? Given the factors I listed, and what can be taken as canon and what can be reasonably inferred, without any further information available I'd say 1600-1800 years in the future is a reasonable estimate. If there were two periods of severe decline/collapse between now and the B7 present, it might add another 300-500 years.

One last thing: the only place I did see a reference to the series occurring around the year 10,000 AD is in an article that assumes the B7 universe is also part of the Dr. Who universe, and combines the data from the two shows to create an overall timeline for Earth. Scroll to the 'longish footnote' at the bottom of this link to see their reasoning specifically concerning Blake's 7.
posted by chambers at 2:29 PM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't think I ever had a clear idea of when B7 was supposed to be set, so this is really fascinating.

I'm totally on board with 2 episodes/week. I'm up to Seek Locate Destroy right now, but I've been trying to pace myself.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:24 PM on May 8, 2016

One last thing: the only place I did see a reference to the series occurring around the year 10,000 AD is in an article that assumes the B7 universe is also part of the Dr. Who universe

Except... Who dating is notoriously unreliable. And, if we assume Lance Parkin's work is accurate, that would set it in the era between Planet of the Spiders (5433AD) and The Ark In Space (15,000AD) which... doesn't feel correct. And, of course, K9 is from the year 5000AD.

I think we can assume The Who/B7 unified field theory is fanwank.

But, since probably no one had any idea, I don't worry about it, because the show never really gives us much information.

Anyway, I enjoyed Space Fall, it's a nice little bottle show, really gets the story moving in the right direction and - if you don't know who the Seven are, really starts killing off a satisfying number of characters, and it really works in well as the second in tight little trilogy with the first and third episodes.

I'm happy to switch to two episodes a week, since I've powered through to Orac.
posted by Mezentian at 3:14 AM on May 9, 2016

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