The Blake's 7 Super Test

Blake's 7 Super Test
Blake's Legacy
Blake's Progress
Naming Blake
"Avon: A Terrible Novel"?
Birth Of The Federation
The Blake's 7 Formula
To Kill Or To Stun
The Blake's 7 Drinking Game
Blake's Chicken
Blake's Parrott
Season One Review


Season One - How Did It Go?

That's a good question. Over a year ago I wrote the Introduction and Character pages to share my plans for the Alternate Sequel Project as I embarked upon it. Well, I'm doing this page now so you can compare what I'd hoped for with what I've actually done so far. It'll also help me to answer the above question - I haven't had much chance to decide yet, so this page is as much for my benefit as anyone else's.

All I can say so far is that Season 1 went somewhat differently from how I expected. Not necessarily better or worse, just differently. To be honest, some of it has surprised me as much as any reader. A lot of the sequences in episodes like In The Jaws and Sentiments just happened and produced some of the best material. Other episodes, like Truths and Zealots disappointed me in that they seemed pretty good as I plotted them out, but didn't quite have the edge I expected when it finished writing them, as though sticking strictly and doggedly to a plan cost the episodes some of their freedom. The only lesson I can take from that is that writers have to loosen up a bit when they write.

Feedback on my work has been a lot more fleeting than Neil Blissett's - that's not a grudge I bear him by the way, just a frustrating fact. What I have received suggests that the best episodes I've done are In The Jaws, Dark Dreams, Sieged, Sentiments, Harsh Lessons, and A Matter Of Gravity. With the exception of Sieged, I'd probably agree with the above, and certainly they were among the ones I enjoyed writing most, the ones when my blood was racing fastest, if I'm allowed to put it that way (and of course I am). Sentiments in particular I was very pleased with, because I wrote the episode without noticing almost. What I mean by that is I was just throwing a few ideas around about Farin and his brother, decided to type a few of them down on Wordpad and before I knew what was happening an entire Episode was ready for editing.

Sieged however was a surprise to me in that people responded to it so well. I thought it was okay, kept the story moving well, but nothing too remarkable. Yet the responses I got were only a moderate distance short of rave. Re-reading it I still can't see what the fuss was about. By contrast, one of the episodes I was most pleased with was In Whom We Trust, which, for reasons too complicated to go into the details of, was one of the most difficult and taxing bits of work I've ever done in my life. What with all the headaches it was giving me, halfway through writing it I thought it would be a disaster and I'd have to redo the whole thing again. What it turned out to be in the end was an episode I was truly proud of, yet the response I got to it was largely lukewarm. I went to enormous pains to get it done in time (it was part of a big-time redraft of all the episodes set on Taurus III, which I was writing in the same week Neil was to put it online - for some reason I thought it would be a terrible disgrace to miss the deadline!), and I was a little put out by the reaction. But I have no one to blame for that but me, as I made the job too difficult for myself.

The overall structure of Season 1 was only slightly modified from how I'd originally imagined it would be, but a lot of the details on the journey were peculiarly different. For instance, I always knew that both Farin and Kyben would be written out by the end of episode 16, but I put their deaths in reverse order in the end - my original vision back when I started writing Blake's Legacy was that Kyben would die first trying to get revenge on Tarrant or maybe seeking to avenge Jemecca (see Act I), and that Farin would be the one to die in the black hole at the end of the series. However I eventually decided that Kyben was the better character while Farin was getting annoying to write (Heaven knows what he was like to read!), so I swapped them over and it was Farin who got the chop first. I strongly believe that the decision is vindicated by the result - by necessity Kyben's behaviour by the end of the series was every bit as unstable as Farin's had been, but he was still capable of the much greater degree of subtlety that the story on the Subjugator demanded, and which Farin could never have provided.

Furthermore I believe I removed Farin at the right time and in the right way - he and Stella were only really brought in to give the new crew of the Liberator some much-needed impetus in the early episodes, but once that's done there's not a lot left for single-purpose characters to do. And in a black-humoured way I was quite pleased with the twist I applied when Farin was killed - his crusade on Earth at the expense of crew-mates was all for nothing. As Neil noted in the Episode Guide, it was a poetic kind of microcosm of the way Farin lived his life. At least with his brother I at last found something new and interesting for Farin to do, even if it was only to kill him off with.

On the other hand, perhaps Kyben was written out a little too early, but then if you closely re-read the scenes when the Subjugator is destroyed, perhaps you'll notice that things may not be quite as straightforward as they seem.

Some elements I expected in the series didn't happen at all, usually because of a lack of available space. My earliest ideas about Dev Tarrant for instance seldom materialised. If you check the Character Guide you'll see I was hoping to use his past associations with Earth resistance groups as a factor in his work, but it never happened because I simply found better, or at least more relevant, things for him to do - very little of Blake's 7 takes place on Earth itself after all, so how were the rebels there going to be a factor in his hunt for Servalan and Avon?

Jaimee Gavisson and Chaesla were supposed to play a big role in the closing Episodes, but this also didn't happen, chiefly because the Kyben/Servalan/Soolin story moved back to the heart of the series in a bigger way than I'd anticipated. Don't worry though if you feel Jaimee or Chaesla haven't had a fair crack of the whip yet, they will both return in Series 2, bigger, badder and better. Or at least more often. Also Shivan Jnr will make a return appearance.

Alternatively Commander Kreel started well and I was expecting him to be in there right up to the end of Series 2, but soon I began to get really cheesed off writing his lines because... well, let's put it this way. Phone Directory Enquiries and ask for a phone number, any phone number for anyone or anything you can think of - the Oxford Street branch of Marks and Spencer maybe, anything you like. Then listen to the computerised voice chanting that number down the line at you. THEN... imagine what it'd be like having to listen to someone whining at you in that voice for hours on end every time you sit in front of the screen. Kreel was talking to me like that in my head whenever I was writing him. The number of times I felt like typing "EXTERMINATE!" when he saw the Liberator on the viewscreen...

Ugh! I was really glad to kill him off by episode 16. And in case anyone was wondering, yes, Norcris died on the Subjugator too.

The changes weren't all bad news, mind. Hailee was one of the new characters who exceeded my expectations, a good strong presence on the Liberator and with a handy independence streak to keep plenty of attitude coming. She was especially useful at replacing Avon as the one who keeps sniping at Vila - the Avon/Vila squabbling was the best relationship in Blake's 7 but I decided that by now Avon must be weary of it. Not wanting to lose that element though, I let Hailee take over that role and it worked nicely. Mind you, she also formed a good "irritable-stepmother-with-stupid-sons" trio with Kyben and Farin, especially in Ghosts In The Machine. Hailee's very good at insulting everyone, so she could have struck up that kind of relationship with anybody aboard the Liberator.

I part-based Hailee on a girl I used to work with called Emma F********h (you know who you are if you're reading this!), who was very good at telling people to shut up, and insulted everyone around her. The more she liked people, the more she insulted them. I found it was usually bad news to be pals with her - if I was nice to her, she told me to shut up and insulted me. If I was nasty to her, she lost her temper and insulted me. I couldn't win. I should stress, at the risk of being insulted and told to shut up, that the more intelligent aspects of Hailee's personality were NOT based on Emma F********h. Decide what you will about that.

But enough of all this mindless abuse of old friends, I hear you cry, what about the important stuff?!?!?!?! And what is the important stuff? Well, there's only one possible answer to that isn't there? What's the activity thats most important to anyone? The question thousands of you wish to have answered... well, maybe not thousands, hundreds of you anyway... well dozens... Well alright. Seven or eight of you are interested in me answering whether or not Avon and Hailee are fooling about together when the rest of the crew aren't looking. Before I get on with failing to answer that question, I'd like to register my despair at this unhealthy fixation so many Blake's 7 fans seem to have upon the physical side of relationships between the members of the Liberator crew, and the shamefully promiscuous mentality it entails.

But you're not going to listen, so I won't.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the answer is maybe. And Hailee's a lot of fun to write, so I guess I owe it to her to write something nice happening to her. The question is, how nice would a relationship with Avon be?

Parallels between Kyben and Travis were very deliberate. Indeed Kyben was developed as a sort of Anti-Travis, with them given two similar lives up to major turning points that changed each of them forever. Even the turning point was very similar, but where Travis' injury was inflicted by an archenemy, turning an evil man into a lunatic war mongerer, Kyben's was inflicted in an act of betrayal by a comrade, turning an evil man into (supposedly) a good guy. Strange as it may sound, this was a kind of strike out against James Bond films and that stereotypical way in which anyone with a disfigured appearance is always made into a villain.

However, under his newfound honourable surface Kyben was still no hero. His history as a Federation indoctrinator was not itself the problem. It was a mixture of other factors - his insufferable refusal to accept that he had a history to atone for, his refusal to confide in his colleagues aboard the Liberator about his past, and his whining about how miserable his life as a freedom fighter was. He thought that he was suffering, when he wasn't, and that he didn't deserve to, when he probably did. He should have complained to the dozens of patients whose minds he'd "healed". For him to moralise with Hailee the way he did in the early days may have made him look like a man of high ethics at the time, but in truth it just made him a hypocrite.

Still, maybe Kyben did redeem himself in the end, sacrificing himself to protect the Galaxy from the Subjugator. But even in that his own death would hardly have been necessary, and was offered for selfish reasons. Even his fling with Soolin was selfish rather than loving - he was really taking advantage of her confusion, a confusion he himself had caused. His fall into madness was caused more by self-pity than real stress.

Yes, Kyben was an interesting character to write, but I couldn't help despising him every step of the way. And I was the one who created him!

Nij Blake hasn't really played much of a part so far, I've only offered a few glimpses of his character. He will move much closer to the heart of the story in the second series, I just didn't think it was a good idea to factor him into the equation too early in Series 1 with all the loose ends to tie up from Blake (his arrival was causing a bit of brain-strain early on in the Main Sequel Project), whereas by the time I did introduce him, there was so much else going on I thought I'd just ease him into the crew and leave the real development until I'd made some more room for it i.e. after Farin and Kyben were out of the way.

Perversely, the established characters from the original Blake's 7 were harder to write than the new ones, because having all the details about them decided beforehand is a mixed blessing. It saves you a lot of work trying to decide what characteristics you should give them, but on the other hand it restricts what you can make them say or how you can make them behave. It meant that even though Avon, Vila and Servalan continued to play a big part in what transpired, and were still probably the three most-prominent characters, there was very little development of them as individuals - I was very wary of redefining them in any significant way because I knew that someone would complain "No they just wouldn't DO that!!!!" This is the reason Avon's rivalry with Servalan only got the briefest look-in. My hand is forced for the second series though - my plans for them mean they'll be on a collision course throughout, so I have to risk applying new details and tangents in their personalities in future. By the way, if you're wondering why Servalan was crying after Kyben betrayed her, it wasn't, as some have suggested to me, because he was about to die, it was purely the frustration that she had been denied the Liberator once again.

In all this caution with the old characters, Soolin was the exception. In Season 4 of Blake's 7 she wasn't wasted as such, but she wasn't developed anything like enough either. We generally saw the negative, more cynical side of her, and I felt there was enough scope to find her some more redeeming qualities. If you get the impression that some of her devotion to Kyben was a little too pronounced, it wasn't entirely her. The merging of minds with Servalan has had a permanent effect on Soolin. Not only has it left her less stable than before, it's also left a print of Servalan's personality on her own mind. And Kyben was correct shortly before he died, it was the corner of Soolin's mind marked by Servalan which loved him, after a fashion. In her own right, Soolin would probably have never given him a second thought.

She did have a nice side to her though, as Nebrox and Zeeona were able to reveal. It was this that made her love Kyben rather than manipulate him as Servalan would have done. Servalan loved playing with him as a toy, but Soolin is not cruel, and is capable of giving real love. The Servalan/Soolin story is far from over of course, and now that Kyben is gone matters are more heated than ever. This means that when the A/S/P version of Partners is written early in Season Two, the emotional and narrative stakes will be even higher.

Did the overall series structure work? Some people think not, the argument being that my stories are far more interconnected than the original Blake's 7 was, and that therefore it doesn't seem as good anymore. I'm sorry if I sound like I'm getting snotty here, but that argument makes no sense whatsoever, the implication being that because a story is more fragmented, flows less smoothly, and is less self-consistent it somehow makes it more valid. For me, Blake's 7 had many strengths, but series structure was not one of them. It sometimes frustrated me that the overall saga was told so episodically with most of the stories, too many, being shelved off from all the others. It made it feel less like the ongoing story it was meant to be. It frequently got to the point when it didn't matter what order most of the episodes were broadcast in as there was so little reference to each other in them, and that is a sign of disconnected writing.

It also shouldn't be forgotten that the original Blake's 7 was structured the way it was by the circumstances forced upon it, and I'm sure that if David Maloney had had the choice he would have allowed Blake's 7's episodes to run together a little more. He couldn't because of financial limitations against employing the same guest actors for more than one episode, (it costs an awful lot to tie an actor down for four months or more, as they don't like making a commitment like that if they're only going to make the odd guest appearance here and there) so the structure of the series was made more Star Trek-like. I don't have to worry about that because my scripts aren't going to be made into shows, and I can change the structure into something more continuous, bringing in characters and taking them out whenever it seems appropriate, rather than having to completely replace the guest cast each episode. It also allows me to continue the same plot in more than one episode and go into far more detail. If I have that freedom I don't think I should apologise for using it. Far from it. While I'd agree that the escape from Gauda Prime and the "Taurus Saga" (for want of a better name) were both pushing it at four episodes each, overall I'd say ending so many episodes on cliff-hangers added a lot of tension to the story, and plenty of backward references and reverse-plotting added to the intrigue.

So all of this still leads me back to the original question. How did Season 1 go? Well, I've written this review over the course of several days, and I've had time to sit back and look over it all from a distance. I think it's gone okay. Not great, but okay. I am going to go back and redraft a number of Episodes before I start the Second season, so it should then be better than okay. But till then, we'll have to make do with okay. Okay?

That's okay then...


Martin Odoni, March 2001