1.1 The Way Back

Episode 1: The Way Back

Original Airdate: 2nd January 1978

Written by: Terry Nation

Directed by: Michael E. Briant

On this day in 1978 Terry Nation, the man that gave the world Doctor Who’s most famous villains the Daleks, brought a new science fiction series to the BBC. Starring Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow and Jacqueline Pearce Blake’s 7 ran for 52 episodes over four series. The adventures of the crew of the Liberator and their battles with the evil Federation have have endured for forty years and to celebrate I’ve decided to watch every episode in 2018. I hope you’ll join me for 52 adventures with Blake’s 7…

The Plot:

Roj Blake was once a resistance leader who fought against the villainous Federation (who were responsible for the murder of his family). Rather than executing Blake and turning him into a martyr they perform brain surgery on his and rob him of his memories and make him the perfect citizen. Unfortunately for the Federation the legend of Roj Blake lives on and the resistance are keen to reenlist him. Blake is smuggled out to a resistance meeting but his memories are yet to return. The shocking content of the anti-Federation meeting is enough to give Blake something to think about. Unfortunately whilst he’s off thinking the Feds raid the meeting and slaughter everyone who isn’t Blake. Every cloud has a silver lining and witnessing the mass slaughter of these brave resistance heroes is enough to awaken his long suppressed memories. Blake is back baby. The Federation, having discovered that the resistance legend is back in business, arrest him on false charges of child molestation (Blake being the only person at the BBC to actually get charged in with child molestation in the 1970’s and probably the only person innocent of them!) and Blake is sentenced to imprisonment on the colony Cygnus Alpha. Blake tries to convince public defender to search for evidence to prove his innocence which he does manage to find unfortunately he and his wife meet a nasty end at the hands of our villains the Federation. As Blake is transported to Cygnus Alpha he meets the thief Vila Restal and pilot (and smuggler) Jenna Stannis.

The Review:

As first episodes go this is a corker. This show aired well before I was born and apart from seeing a few bits here and there (including the very final minutes of the last episode which annoyingly I’ve never forgotten) I’d never really given much thought to the show. It’s one you hear about of course. Mocked for it’s wobbly sets and crappy special effects it would easy to ignore it as a terribly dated relic of it’s time but to do so is to do the show a great injustice. This first episode sets out the groundwork for something special. I have seen the whole first series now and there’s some great stuff to enjoy here (and some not so great).

This episode is bleak. The world of Blake’s 7 is dark and corrupt. There’s not much in the way of hope and life does not seem to mean a great deal to the Federation. This is the worst sort of nightmare future you can imagine. Corruption is currency and injustice reigns supreme. Gareth Thomas is perfectly cast as Roj Blake. He plays the amnesiac Blake perfectly and his change to the restored resistance leader is very believable.

The rest of the cast are also excellent. We’re introduced to both Vila and Jenna in this episode in one of my very favourite scenes. Blake wakes up to find his pockets pilfered by master thief Vila in a perfect introduction for the character and he certainly makes the most impact on me as a viewer. Jenna also makes quite the impression when she refuses to let Vila get away with stealing from Blake.

Tel Varon, Blake’s public defender, is perhaps the most heroic and tragic of characters in this first episode. His bravery in the face of corruption is inspiring and he goes above and beyond to prove Blake’s innocence. Unfortunately the world of Blake’s 7 is not one where the good guys win and in this first episode we have villains who prove just too good for Tel Varon and his wife Maja. They come so close to exposing the villainous acts of the Administration and the duplicitous Dev Tarrant.

There are some fairly chilling scenes in this episode. Blake’s interview with the doctor about his returning memories is the classic dystopian nightmare and is enough to make your blood run cold. The unfairness of Blake’s trial on quite horrifying trumped up charges is another nightmarish vision. The image of the Varons lying dead as Tarrant cooks up his cover story is another particularly nasty moment in what is a very dark episode.

We end with a moment of hope though. A hope that will drive us through the next year of Blake’s 7 reviews. As Blake, Jenna and Vila are transported to the prison colony one of the guards tells Blake to enjoy one last look at the planet Earth as it’ll be the last he sees of it.

“No I’m coming back,” he promises.

And, for now at least, I believe him.

Stray Observations:

  • Do not let Roj Blake represent you in court. He’s absolutely bloody useless. During his trial he announces he’ll offer no defence as he isn’t guilty. That’s not how trials work you maniac!
  • One of the few negatives of this episode is there’s no Avon! He’s clearly the star of the show and it’s hard to believe he doesn’t pop up here.
  • This episode has some really dark scenes for a show that went out on prime time BBC 1 on a Monday night.
  • We’ll be sticking with Tuesday nights for the coverage of series one meaning I’ll be reviewing each episode on the 40th anniversary of it’s original air date which is pretty cool.

Next week: We meet Kerr Avon and Olag Gan in episode 2: Space Fall.

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