Friday, February 03, 2012

Another Federation: Blake's 7

Big Finish, producers of fine Doctor Who audio adventures, have just launched their Blake's 7 line with three audio adventures available as a CD or download box set. More audios will come, and for the first time ever, there'll be a line of original novels set during the series. There's only a few B7 novels, three adaptations, one novel set before the series, and one set after. I haven't listened to the new audios yet, but I bought them (as downloads -- very reasonably priced) as soon as I could. And I'm really looking forward to the books.

Oh, yeah... why's this here? I happen to think any serious Star Trek fan should be familiar with Blake's 7. Likewise any fan of Babylon 5, Farscape, etc. Blake's 7 is often considered the anti-Star Trek, not just because the Federation is the evil and oppressive organization being fought by the protagonists, but because it's dark, pessimistic, and came to a brutal and downbeat ending. It also had arc elements and heavy continuity long before B5, DS9, or Farscape. And, like TOS, B7 is sometimes written off as absurdly camp junk with crap special effects -- an assessment I disagree with for both shows. Well, except that B7 did have crap special effects. It took three or four tries over a few years before I could get past that and focus on the characters and the writing, but when it took, I was hooked.

Anyway. To prepare for getting into the new B7 productions, I finally read a book I've had for a few years, A History and Critical Analysis of Blake’s 7, the 1978-1981 British Television Space Adventure by John Kenneth Muir. I read his similar book on Space: 1999 years ago and was frustrated by Muir's need to compare Space: 1999 with Star Trek on almost every page, with 1999 generally coming out ahead. And I'd heard this book was similar. It was.

Muir offers an introduction, then a season introduction, then a few pages of description and commentary for each episode. In pretty much every one, he compares some element of the story to Star Trek, or to Babylon 5, or to Space: 1999. Sometimes Doctor Who as well. B7 generally comes out well in these comparisons, regardless of how much sense they make, but the frustrating thing is how little the show is discussed in its own right.

Muir also has some odd notions. What other people call arc or mythology episodes -- the episodes of a show that advance ongoing story threads instead of telling a self-contained story -- he calls canon episodes. In an Essays section at the end of the book, he also redefines the concept of story arcs to "prove" that Babylon 5 didn't have a story arc at all but B7 did, because an arc has to be a full circle that ends the story where it began.

So. Getting to the point at last... if you haven't given Blake's 7 a try, do so. But if you want a book to bring you up to speed, look for Liberation by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore or wait for David McIntee's forthcoming Standard by Seven.

(For what it's worth, though, Muir wrote one of my favourite Space: 1999 novels.)