If you want to find a fault in any idea, no matter how
good it is, you will. If you stare at the idea long enough and hard enough, you're going to find a reason to argue that it
can't work. This attitude is what is commonly, and wrongly, referred to as skepticism, when it should actually be called cynicism.
Nonetheless, we shouldn't assume that an argument against
is always cynical.
Why all this narrow deliberation over the meaning of
two words that are themselves descriptive of quibbling behaviour? Well, it's because of a long running issue that Blake's
7 fans have been stewing over for many years, ever since Terry Nation made a shrewd suggestion over the last ever episode
of the televised monster he had unwittingly created. I have an argument, it shames me to say, against his idea.
The suggestion surrounds the very last scene in Blake's
7 when our ambushed "heroes" were all gunned down ruthlessly by Federation troops. The question of what happened next
was the inevitable subject of debates that have carried on right to the present day, always argued passionately, sometimes
even furiously. But other, more sophisticated avenues have also been explored - not just asking "what happened next?" but
asking, "what actually happened at all?"
To put that another way, the more elaborate thinkers
amongst us, of which I am not necessarily one, have argued that there was more to that climactic shootout than met our traumatised
eyes on that cold night in December '81. Yes, many of us quickly leapt to the most obvious conclusion - "they're all stuffed"
- and many more of us, including me, leapt to the second most obvious conclusion - "they're all stuffed except Avon, who ducked"
(they're all turkeys except the one who's a duck, you might say), which is a reasonable assumption as the shots that drown
out the credits as they start to roll last an awfully long time for the shooting of one cornered man. But the more imaginative
people actually questioned whether what we saw was the full picture. Rather than discussing what happened next, they discussed
what happened immediately before.
Some of the more feeble answers they came up with included
the eternal, "Oh it was all a dream and Pam Ewing woke up to find Tarrant and Dayna soaping each other passionately in her
shower," and "Avon was on the Federation's side all along, so he surrendered." Both of which (not just the Dallas
reference) are perfectly potty, and fail even to meet with the established facts. Another theory that clearly misses the green
entirely and lands in the long grass is that it wasn't Blake who was gunned down, but his clone from Weapon. It is
beyond the slightest shadow of a possibility of a dispute that this was the real Blake. For one thing, he recognised Avon,
whom the clone never met. For another, this Blake had a personality!
A slightly better suggestion was that more rebels suddenly
burst in and the shots we hear over the closing credits were a firefight between the newcomers and the Federation troops.
Not bad, but not good. It seems highly unlikely that there were any free rebels left on the base, and even if there were,
there couldn't possibly have been enough to take the troopers on - instead they would surely have been running for their lives,
not trying to rescue the man who had just murdered their leader.
Which brings me round to the aforementioned idea put
forward by the late Terry Nation. His suggestion was that the Federation troopers' weapons were set for stun, and so most
of the Scorpio crew would have survived. Probably not Dayna, she was shot with a different weapon, and possibly not
Tarrant, as he was so badly injured from the crash landing he'd been caught in the middle of that even a stun blast was going
to be very dangerous to him.
On the face of it this seems like a good idea. But
look closer, and I'm afraid I have difficulty swallowing it. For three reasons.
The first is a simple question of artistic taste - it
all sounds like a bit of a get-out. When Douglas Adams wrote The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, he had a
real problem writing the scene where Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are thrown out of the Vogon spaceship, because he'd set
the whole thing up as the archetypal "impossible situation" and then had to find a way to get them out of it. He wanted to
do so without having to say, "Well, alright, it wasn't really an impossible situation at all," because that can be a real
anti-climax. In the case of Blake, I feel it's the same story when people say "The weapons were set for stun," because
it's effectively rewriting the facts backwards. There's nothing wrong with a bit of well worked retcon when it's done well,
but only as long as it adds facts to what's already been established, rather than changing it outright.
Okay, so it's not clearly stated in the climactic moment
that the weapons are set to kill, but, and this is the second reason I have problems with the idea, it's quite clear when
watching it that this is what is meant. There is no workable indication in the scene that it is even possible that the weapons
are set to stun. Some people talk about the guns used in the battle being different from the usual type, but the things is,
Avon kills Blake with one of the new type, so that doesn't work.
Furthermore, taking into account previous episodes of
Blake's 7, there is no way that the troopers would be allowed to let anyone live. Going back to the pilot episode,
or Project Avalon, we see that the Federation will automatically kill practically any political opposition they encounter.
If the opposition surrenders, that's just the signal to open fire. To quote Avon's own words from the distant past, "Something
else has to happen before it all begins to come together." In other words, there has to be some kind of ulterior motive for
the Federation to take prisoners. There is no such thing here.
You could respond to that by arguing that an ulterior
motive does exist - they will sometimes spare the figureheads of rebel groups, as a murdered leader makes for a powerful
martyr. So they might set weapons to stun to make sure that this doesn't happen. But I don't think that this would apply here.
The two previous times that Blake was arrested he was on Earth, and he was at the height of his fame. Executing him there
and then would have been a serious mistake, as everyone would have known about it. But in Blake, he is on Gauda Prime,
so far from Earth that hardly anyone has any idea where he is. Indeed he has been missing for about three years, and while
he is by no means forgotten, his crusade against the Federation is yesterday's news. His name is no longer the rallying cry
it was while he was aboard the Liberator. So even if the Federation actually realise that he's there, and according
to what Servalan said in Terminal, they believe he's already dead anyway, they could successfully assassinate him and
keep it quiet with very little difficulty. After all, who's going to notice one more death on a planet like Gauda Prime?
In any case, we shouldn't forget that in that first battle
with Travis, the Federation were clearly trying to kill Blake - the weapons weren't set for stun on that occasion, twenty
of Blake's friends lying dead on the floor bear testimony to that. The fact that Blake wasn't killed was fortunate for the
Federation, and arguably for Blake too, but that was down to luck, and luck and judgement are two very different things.
And what's the third reason? Simple logic, Captain...
oops, wrong show. I'm supposed to be talking about a programme that I like, sorry. But yes, watching what happens, there is
a serious logic flaw in the idea that the Federation weapons were not set to kill. But okay, let's assume for a moment that
it's true, that they were ordered to take everyone alive, thus making sure that Blake et al were not martyred. Fine.
So answer me this, everyone. Why didn't the troopers
just shoot Avon? Why did they bother walking up to him and surrounding him? Why did they bother with aiming their guns at
him, as if to say "Move and we zap ya!" instead of just zapping him as soon as they saw him? They weren't going to get into
trouble for killing someone valuable if their weapons weren't set to kill in the first place, were they? Why didn't they shoot
him as soon as he took aim at the nearest trooper? Why did they apparently wait until one of their colleagues had been killed
before deciding that it might be a good idea to put Avon to sleep for a few minutes? Indeed that would be preferable even
to Avon surrendering - at least while a prisoner's out cold you can put him in chains without facing the slightest resistance.
No, as things stand the idea doesn't work. The weapons
were not set for stun, they were set to kill. The facts, as far as they go, are more or less complete, so the whole practise
of re-examining them is futile. In the final analysis, for any continuation of the story of Blake or his followers, we can
only look to what happens next and/or what is happening elsewhere, rather than to re-examine what we've already seen.
The only facts from before this that can provide a turning point now have to have taken place elsewhere, and the only possibility
of survival for each character depends on how bad their respective injuries are. My own version, as many of you already know,
is that Blake, Dayna and Tarrant all died, while Vila and Soolin were injured but escaped with Avon, who got out unscathed
- just typical, let everyone else do all the bleeding why don't you? And their escape was effected by outside events, rather
than by altering established facts.
I hope that my skepticism of the "stun guns" idea isn't
interpreted as cynicism by the way. And by allowing any of the crew to survive at all in my version, I think I've displayed
enough optimism to earn the benefit of the doubt.