While Orac is otherwise busy trying to keep his lab funded, meet Orac

Grant deadlines strike again, and there's no new Insolence for you to peruse today. (The problem with doing real science, as opposed to blogging, is that you actually have to apply endlessly for grant money, and, believe it or not, that comes first, before even Insolence.) Fortunately, I've been made aware of an endless source of entertainment for you, my readers. I've explained before from where I chose the pseudonym "Orac." It was from what was at the time a popular British science fiction series that ran for four years back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unfortunately, the passage of time has made it obscure, and in the US it's particularly obscure, only having been shown in relatively few markets, mostly PBS, in the 1980s and 1990s.

In any case, Orac was a character in the show, a computer actually. The most powerful computer in the galaxy, he was known for a prickly personality (like that of his creator, Ensor), a tendency to be dismissive of concerns of the crew with whom he found himself, and only interested in what he was interested in. You can see why I picked him. In any case, I just discovered that the entire four year run of that now-obscure British science fiction series Blake's 7 is now on YouTube. Disappointingly, the resolution is only 360p instead of the original 480p, but, let's face it, given the quality of the special effects you probably won't notice the difference anyway.

Low budget, 1970s/1980s era BBC special effects notwithstanding, it's an awesome show, and you should try to watch all 52 episodes before the BBC makes whoever put the episodes up take them down. It's a great series, featuring a band of rebels fighting a galactic empire with one of the greatest villains ever (Servalan) leading it. Unfortunately, Orac doesn't appear until the very end of the first series—which in the first few episodes is mostly taken up with the origin story that describes how Roj Blake, former leader of the resistance but now seemingly safely brainwashed into subservient compliance, stumbled back into his former life after being falsely accused of pedophilia by the federation, came to lead a band of rebels escaped from federation prison ship, and acquired his legendary alien craft the Liberator—in an episode entitled, appropriately enough, Orac:

And the awesome conclusion in the first episode of the second series:

If you want to understand Orac, going to the source is a good place to start, at least until Orac is out from under this grant deadline.

More like this

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…
The day has finally arrived. The big changes hinted at and then announced have finally come to pass. Orac has finally rebooted and plugged his (its?) essence into ScienceBlogs.com. It almost didn't come to pass, thanks to a certain overreaction by my medical school. It also didn't help that, after…
Here's the reason why: Actor and voice artiste Peter Tuddenham has died at the age of 88 after a short illness. His vocal talents were used in Doctor Who for The Ark in Space, The Masque of Mandragora and Time and the Rani, but he will also be well-known to cult TV fans for providing the voices of…
PROLOGUE LOCATION: The Liberator, cruising through space. GAN: Are you sure it's fully switched on? ORAC: Of course I'm properly switched on. Having depressed the activator button what else would you expect? CALLY: It's his voice. BLAKE: It's exactly as though Ensor were speaking. ORAC: Surely it…

And I thought our pharma overlords would constantly shower you with money so that you don´t have to go through the grant application process like us mere mortals. How odd!

And good luck with the proposal!

By StrangerInAStr… (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

Luvly!

Real Life ate my Seasons 2 - 4 DVDs of Blakes 7 (why it left me season 1, I don't know).

This will do until I can replace 'em. :)

Have you seen the 'Adventures With The Wife And Blake' blog? It might provide you with some entertainment in the breaks between grant writing.

http://thewifeandblake.com/

They've just finished watching S1 and are taking a little break before starting S2. (Oh, and for anyone who hasn't seen the series yet, very big spoilers everywhere, especially in the comments.)

p.s. Anyone who does decide to watch the series for the first time, staying away from spoilers is a really good idea. Watching Blakes for the first time is an experience much improved by remaining unspoilered.

By The Grouchybeast (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

And OH those late 1970s hair styles!

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

I have very vague memories of this show being repeated on Sunday mornings when I was young. For some reason I can only ever remember them being attacked by Space Germs or Space Viruses. Such were the budgets these were generally depicted by dodgy camera filters (they obviously didnt have enough budget for real aliens week in week out). I could be 100% wrong about this, but that is my memory, cant wait to watch them to see if its correct.

the highlights are the season 3 story sarcophagus ( tanith lee wrote it i believe) and the season 4 story sand.

By incitatus (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

@ob1

*Anything* SF that Terry Nation touched tended to have the adjective-form of "space" sprinkled heavily all over it. "Space units" and "space virus" and whatnot.

As if the spaceships and rayguns weren't, y'know, a sufficient indication that this was a sci-fi setting. :)

I love Terry Nation to bits - a guy who gave us the Daleks can't be all bad - but the 'make-it-space-y' thing was a chronic weakness of his...

Blake's 7 on YouTube? Thanks for the tip, Orac :-)

By Irène Delse (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

How soon will this mysterious disease striking children be blamed on vaccines?

My bet is on Real Soon Now, as alluded to in the Laetrile thread.

Servelan may have been evil but.....

Denice #4: And the obviously cobbled together, but oddly fabulous, retro-futuristic clothes...

By Irène Delse (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

#11 servalan was formative to my ...erm... baser desires. without doubt she is the supervillain of choice to be threatened by.

By incitatus (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

I doubt you were the only one, incitatus!

I always said that Blakes 7 and Doctor Who made me the person I am today - for good and ill. ;)

She visits the UK, occasionally, but had to cancel a convention appearance in the USA three years ago because of visa issues. I was *quite* vexed, as I'd been looking forward to seeing her speak!

yes, the effects crew seems to have been paid with chocolate coins, but it was the twisty plots and the sometimes very clever visions of the future that made it worth watching.
I want to put in a word fhere or Paul Darrow's Kerr Avon, the consummate anti-hero, and probable psychopath.
Brian Blessed's turn in an early episode was memorable, but then every appearance of his is memorable (The ultimate Brian Blessed role was in "Flash Gordon" as the cheerfully overacted King of the Hawkmen.).
As to the tacking on of "space" to every noun, it reached its ultimate in the movie "Ice Pirates", with the ship beset by "space-herpes".

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

I watched all four seasons of Blake's 7 earlier this year, straight through, with great pleasure. Avon is my main man, but I like everyone in it; it's a show where "politics" is not a weird and stupid word, but solid, gut-punching conflict. Here's another vote for no spoiling! (restraining geeky self)

By Ron Edwards (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

Blake's Seven was part of my formative years. I remember excitedly dissecting the last episode (only the BBC can do story lines that shocking and compelling) at school.

Recently, I was very excited to catch up on an old episode of Dr Who and up popped Jacqueline Pearce! Yee hah!

By Bill Turner (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

Avon is my main man, but I like everyone in it

Avon was my favorite, too, but his personality didn't fit the blog. Besides, if people don't know who Orac is, they really don't know who Kerr Avon is.

Avon was my favorite, too, but his personality didn’t fit the blog.

From Wikipedia:

Orac dislikes work that it considers unnecessary, enjoys gathering information and has delusions of grandeur.

;)

By Mrs Grimble (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

Carolyn: LOVE IT!! BB is the man I think that almost every man secretly wants to be - physically imposing, commanding attention, larger than life, able to hold off hordes of Turks with a fruit knife....
BTW. Paul Darrow was, I believe, in two different Doctor Who serials. He's also the author of a novel, "Avon", that is Avon's origin story. Sadly, it's crap. And for all you fans of British SF, "Law and Order UK" not only has had him as a judge in several episodes, but has also had Freema Agyeman and Peter Davison as Crown prosecutors (and Jamie Bamber as a cop, you "Battlestar Galactica" fans).
If anyone cares, Glynis Barber (Soo Lin), Sally Knyvette (Jenna Stannis), my not-so-secret crush Josette Simon (Dayna), and Jan Chappell (Callie) are all still out there working.
They all seem to have been in all the most popular British series at one time or another, as well.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 26 Feb 2014 #permalink

Orac could be downright vindictive at times. My favourite was in the episode "Orbit": Avon and Vila are in a shuttle that has been (in a manner of speaking) sabotaged so that it is unable to reach, well, orbit. They have already thrown out everything they can think of in order to reduce the weight, but they are still over by some 70kg. Avon, desperately trying to think of something else, says aloud to himself, "What weighs seventy kilos?"

"Vila," helpfully volunteers Orac, "weighs seventy-three kilos."

Hilarity ensues :)

Dave, I am embarrassed to admit I own a copy of "Avon." I don't think I could find it to save my life, and it IS crap, but at the time I bought it -- Gad! twenty years ago -- MY mad crush was Paul Darrow.

If you're in the mood for more BB, have you watched "Henry 8.0"? http://youtu.be/zZl3BDtT5cA

jim -- "Well, as you always say, Vila: you know you are safe with *me*."

Dave, I have GOT to hunt down that episode of "Law & Order UK", as that sounds (ahem) FANtastic. ;)

Jim - many moons ago, back when we all still wore buttons at conventions, my favorite button read "Hey, Avon! Wesley Crusher weighs 73 kilos!"

If people didn't get the joke, I didn't see much point in talking to 'em. ;)

And yeah, I bought "Avon", too, idiot that I was. Didn't he try it again, recently? (Publish a B7 novel, I mean...)

For fans who haven't tried them yet, do check out the audios at Big Finish productions. It's the third attempt to re-kindle interest in B7 in the audio medium and it might prove the charm...

Oh yes, that would be it, forsooth.

I'll just wait to see if my local library can be convinced to acquire a copy. I must admit, I'm reluctant to risk my eyeballs again.

Big Finish's audios are, however, excellent. I've been listening to various of their Doctor Who offerings for years, and I prefer their Sapphire & Steel stories to the original series. ;)

I dunno about that trilogy. I have in my possession a copy of "Afterlife" by Tony Attwood. It was published by Target, which published a series of official B7 books and bears the words "Terry Nation's Blake's 7" on the cover and inside. The cover also calls it "The authentic sequel to the great TV series". An author's note thanks Chris Boucher for his assistance. I conclude that it's the real McCoy and that anything else purporting to be the sequel is a fraud. Iif Paul Darrow hasn't improved astronomically as a novelist, I have no doubt that it's not worth reading.
And yes, I still have my copy of "Avon'.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

Johanna: It wasn't a single episode. Freema Agyeman had a regular role as a Crown prosecutor, and Peter Davison was her chief. Jamie Bamber was the junior detective of the regular pair of detectives.
Carolyn: I also had something of a secondary crush on Paul Darrow, or tertiary, after Josette Simon and Jacqueline Pearse.
I left out a non-spoiler:
Blake is definitely and permanently dead (although there is one, and maybe another, Blake clone floating around). Vila, you may have noticed, dropped to the floor with the first shot, though no one was shooting at him. Since Blake was the only one whose wound showed blood, the others may have been stunned, not killed.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 27 Feb 2014 #permalink

There's a whole sub-genre of B7 fanfic called PGP, or Post Gauda Prime. You can find one that explains how your favorite character did (or didn't) survive.

I just bought my first Big Finish audio, a Doctor Who called "Storm Warning." It's Paul McGann, but also has Gareth Thomas and Simon Pegg.

Johanna, I still have a box of buttons (mostly Nancy Lebovitz,) bought at various conventions.) I'd wear them on my lab coat. "The first cup of coffee recapitulates phylogeny" "Kamikaze Chemist" "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Carolyn, this book is not "mere" fanfic, but is clearly officially sanctioned. It has the imprimatur of Terry Nation and the author says he was assisted by Chris Boucher. It's clearly part of the series of official releases. This page from Amazon UK will show it better than I can describe it: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Terry-Nations-Blakes-7-Afterlife/dp/0426199243
It's not completely satisfying, but I reluctantly accept "Afterlife" as definitive, at least as regards Vila, Avon, and Servalan. As for Blake's fate, in his interview in Tony Attwood's program guide Chris Boucher says that Blake died on Gauda Prime. In fact, Gareth Thomas had Blake's death written into his contract, and it's why he was shot with a different kind of weapon and is the only one who shows blood when he's shot. The fate of the rest of the cast was left uncertain to allow for a series revival.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 28 Feb 2014 #permalink

Tony Attwood has turned out some solid - if not precisely breathtaking - B7 content in his time. Maaaaaybe I'll take a look at "Afterlife", sometime.

Mind you, if Chris Boucher's involved in any PGP continuity, I assume there's a Fendahl involved in it *somewhere*. Chap does love his Fendahls, he does...

Oh, wait, if you accept the "Kaldor City" audios as a post-Gauda Prime continuity, then there ARE Fendahls in it. Curse you, Boucher! :)

I met Paul Darrow yesterday in Leicester. He was awesome.

By butterflychick (not verified) on 02 Mar 2014 #permalink