Respectful Insolence

I’m ready for my close-up…

You didn’t think I wouldn’t take notice of this bit of news, did you? Even if I had, I would have had little choice, as readers deluged me with various news reports about this.

Yes, it would appear that there might very well be a new Blakes 7 series. Of course, I’ll believe it when I see it. Only two scripts have been ordered, and there isn’t even a cast and crew assembled yet. There have been attempts to resurrect this series before, and they have all fallen through. We’ll see.

I suspect that most of my non-U.K. readers have no clue where the inspiration for the name of this blog or the pseudonym under which I have been blogging for the last three years or so and under which I used to post to Usenet and various other discussion groups for several years before that. The inspiration, of course, was the original version of Blakes 7, which ran from 1978 to 1981 and followed the exploits of Roj Blake and his band of rebels making up the crew of the Liberator (at least for the first three seasons) as they fought a fascistic Galactic Federation. The show was notable for its low budget sets and special effects, of the same sort as (and probably recycled from) Doctor Who sets of the same era. But, like the best Doctor Who episodes, the stories were so good that it was fairly easy to overlook the cheesiness of the costumes, effects, and sets. The stories were dark; the morals were ambiguous; and Blake sometimes bordered on obsession to the point where he didn’t always make the most rational decisions. Orac, of course, was the Tarial cell-powered supercomputer with the arrogant, ascerbic personality of its creator Ensor, a device that the crew “inherited” at the end of the first series. Consistent with the look of the show, it resembled nothing so much as a clear plastic box with multicolored blinking lights, which is what, in fact, it was.

The show began with Roj Blake, apparently a simple worker in one of Earth’s domed cities. He’s contacted by dissidents, who take him to meet their leader, and learns that he was once an influential dissident himself. The government had wiped his memory after he had been captured and forced into making a false confession. While Blake is at the dissidents’ hideout, the Federation raids it and starts killing dissidents indiscrimately. Blake manages to escape, but his old memories return and he starts looking into his past. To prevent him from becoming a threat again, the government arrests him on trumped up charges of child molestation and then ships him off to a penal colony. On the ship to the colony, he meets up with what would become his crew, a motley collection of outlaws and smugglers who were also being sent to the penal colony, including Vila Restal, a cunning but rather cowardly thief; Jenna Stannis, a savvy smuggler; Olag Gan, a very large and strong man who had been convicted of murdering a Federation guard; and Kerr Avon, a computer genius who had attempted to defraud the Federation banking system. Kerr Avon, by the way, is the most fascinating character in the series. At first seemingly utterly amoral, over the course o the show it becomes clear that he does have a form of a moral code. He follows Blake, even though constantly at odds with him because of his moral certitude. The two characters complement each other; with Avon being the voice of reason and Blake being the voice of conscience. Avon never quite figures out why following Blake means so much to him. In any event, this motley band manages to escape before the prison ship reaches the penal colony via an alien ship (later christened the Liberator) that the prison ship’s captain had attempted to claim for salvage.

I first discovered Blakes 7 when it aired on Cleveland public TV during my residency in the early 1990s. By then, the show had become a cult classic, but in my neck of the woods it was being shown at 6 AM on Saturday. My VCR allowed me to become totally hooked. Sadly, the show is not available on DVD in the U.S., but that didn’t stop me from collecting all four series over the years from Amazon.co.uk and ripping all the episodes to video on my computer.

Looking at any “reimagining” of Blakes 7, I can’t help but wonder several things. First, what will the new Orac look like? Will I have to update my blog? (I actually rather like the kitschy retro look.) More importantly, who would be cast to play the major characters? Some suggestions:

  1. Roj Blake: Difficult. I could default to Derek Riddell, who plays him in the audio adventures, but I think it would be cool if they cast a bit against type. Philip Glenister, perhaps?
  2. Kerr Avon: John Simm. After seeing him in Life On Mars and as the Master on Doctor Who, I think he could really do this part justice, with the proper measures of cold calculation and cunning, utter ruthlessness, but with a sort of a moral center that’s just not immediately obvious.
  3. Vila Restal: I’m torn on this one. Vila was always a bit of comedy relief. He was a skilled thief, cunning and able to break into just about any facility, but cowardly and greedy, possessing a love of drink. Granted, he could show flashes of bravery from time to time, but usually only under extreme duress. In a “reimagining” I’m wondering if it would be good to make his character less of a buffoon, but I can’t decide who would be good for this role.
  4. Servalan (the cunning and beautiful leader of the Terran Federation): I can’t make up my mind here, but the actress cast in the audio adventures, Daniela Nardini, looks promising.
  5. Space Commander Travis (Servalan’s henchman, who has a particular hatred of Blake and wants revenge): James Marsters.

Of course, this leaves the question of who would be cast as the voice of Orac. Sadly, the original actor who did it, Peter Tuddenham, died last year. This one, I think I’ll leave to my readers: Who would be the best to do the voice of Orac? Should the producers do a Starbuck and cast a woman? Should they leave well enough alone and find someone who can do just the right combination of arrogant and petulant? What say you?

Comments

  1. #1 stillwaggon
    April 27, 2008

    Blast from the Past Department: I was a devoted fan of Blake’s 7 during the short time it was available. Loved Avon, hated Servalan, of course, but had a grudging respect for her, didn’t believe she was dead, and she wasn’t! I still have one episode on tape: one of the people I worked for wanted me to do something that would make me miss the show, so we made a bargain: I’d work and he’d tape the show. Must dig it out of the closet. The last episode I saw left me frustrated — it appeared that dear snarky Avon had betrayed boring Blake. There must be a website…. So the good ship Liberator flies again? Must be on the alert.

  2. #2 Bronze Dog
    April 27, 2008

    If a Blakes 7 revival is half as cool as the Doctor Who revival, I’ll be quite happy to watch and learn. Barely caught anything of the original Doctor Who, but knowing your tastes, I should probably see where I can dig up some episodes of Blakes 7.

  3. #3 MartinM
    April 27, 2008

    Ah, I wondered when someone would get around to it. After Dr. Who’s success, it was only a matter of time.

    Travis was one of my favourite characters in season one, and one of my least favourite in season two, for obvious reasons. I think you’re right; Marsters could do a bloody good job of it.

    Vila’s personality always put me in mind of Neil Pearson. Don’t know if I can actually see him in the role, though.

    As for Orac…Paul Darrow, perhaps?

  4. #4 MartinM
    April 27, 2008

    As for Orac…Paul Darrow, perhaps?

    Actually, now that you’ve got me thinking of the Buffy cast, how about Anthony Head?

  5. #5 Clare
    April 27, 2008

    I would think of reversing your casting of Blake and Avon (Glenister and Simm) just to reverse the dynamic of Life on Mars. They’re both good enough actors they’d make it work.

  6. #6 Orac
    April 27, 2008

    Interesting point. However, I think Simm could do a fantastic Kerr Avon.

  7. #7 Skeptico
    April 27, 2008

    Vila – Eddie Izzard

  8. #8 N.B.
    April 27, 2008

    Clearly, you should do the voice of Orac.

  9. #9 DocMartyn
    April 27, 2008

    Vila – Simon Pegg

    Gan – Nick Frost

  10. #10 LC
    April 27, 2008

    Well, apart from the problem they were all killed off (except Servelan, Orac and maybe Slave) we’ll skip that since its a ‘remake’. Starting with the base crew you need Blake, Avon, Vila, Jenna, Gan and Zen, with Cally turning up later. Then you have the big crew change after ‘Star’ One with Danya and Tarrant replacing Gan, Blake and Jenna. Then Soolin and Slave after ‘Terminal’.

    My big concern is their grab blurb of ‘In the vein of Galactica’. Does this mean it turns into ‘Blakes 90210′ with excessive amounts of emo wangst, everyone pining over something, and I dont even want to think what they would do with the humanoid robot from Avalon. “Dark and gritty sci-fi” seems to be code worse for polishing a turd and slap a well known label on it. :(

    But I may be forgiving…if the producers of the new seriers promise NEVER EVER to remake “Animals” and not making “Sand” for bonus points.

  11. #11 sophia8
    April 28, 2008

    Glenister and Simm as Blake and Avon. Is the world ready for the tidal wave of crossover LoM/DW/A2A/B7 internet slashfic that would create???

  12. #12 Helen Krummenacker
    April 28, 2008

    I keep thinking, I want this to happen, except I’m so worried it won’t work. So much of it was really what the actors brought to their roles, and unexpectedly. Avon and Vila grew in importance because the actors delivered the lines with such finesse the writers and script editor started giving them the juiciest bits. Servalan was originally going to be a man– putting Jacqueline Pierce in the role was really a change out of nowhere that changed the whole dynamic. Chemistry can be encouraged, maybe, but it can’t be forced, and it will be a matter of chance as to whether the new cast will have the flair of the old.
    And Marsters… um, no. I love him, BUT an all-British cast is part of it, I think.

  13. #13 Ahistoricality
    April 29, 2008

    Given the state of modern voice synthesis, why not give Orac his own voice? Unless they’re going to do the anthropomorphic thing (a la Andromeda), it would make more sense for the voice to be a bit inhuman.

    The amoral computer genius also reminds me of Andromeda, but perhaps that’s the way of all “band of misfits” narratives….

  14. #14 Ploon
    April 30, 2008

    I probably don’t need to tell you that the BBC published all four seasons on DVD in the last few years, available from Amazon.co.uk or from the BBC. I got them as soon as they came out, only half-remembering the series from when it was on TV and I was a child. I wasn’t disappointed. I hadn’t even seen the seasons with Tarrant yet.

    Anyway, the DVDs are in PAL, so I don’t know how much use they are to you North Americans. Maybe they’re available in NTSC as well, or maybe you have a TV that is capable of displaying both (not sure they exist). In any event, highly recommended, despite the extra cheese.

  15. #15 Independent Girl
    May 1, 2008

    You can also buy a good region-free DVD player for under $100 — just google it and you’ll get multiple vendors. That’s what I did so I could play my Blake’s 7 complete series box set. And yes, $180 USD for the set and $100 for the DVD player was not too high a price to play to get to see my beloved Blake’s 7 again.

    I’m thrilled at the idea of a remake, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I do concur with John Simm for Avon, but it will be hard to match Paul Darrow’s perfect mix of condescention and snark. Simon Pegg would also make a good Vila.

  16. #16 pHred
    May 1, 2008

    Wow – I stumbled on this totally by accident and I am pretty excited through trepidatious to hear that there might be a new Blake’s 7. Unlike apparently most of the rest of the sci fi world, I have not been particularly impressed with the new improved BSG – too many inconsistencies (they have space travel but don’t know about DNA ???)and so much angst about everything – ugh.

    One of the greatest things about B7 was that the show was character driven but it did not turn into a soap opera. I don’t want to imagine what some of these writers would do with the attraction between Servalan and Avon. Ick !

    I met Paul Darrow years ago and I have to say, I think that it will be very hard to find someone like him who will be able to bring the character of Avon to life without slipping into some kind of bad caricature. Same problem with most of the characters – they all had complexities which are generally anathema in modern television.

    Oh well – crossing my fingers for something good.

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