The arrival of a new Blake's 7 book is a rare and happy event in these cynical times (such cynicism is at least
partly born, I suspect, of the cynical generation of modern television drama that B7 was one of the first to give rise
to, so we've probably got no one to blame but ourselves). At any time, a B7 book worth the bother of reading
could be seen as a miracle.
Hallelujah! Those perennial ultimate weapons of the Blake's 7 fan community in its desperate fight for survival,
Fiona Moore and Alan Stevens, have turned me into a believer. Doubtless Avon would pour scorn on me for that, but Liberation
is, in the above terms, the most miraculous book about Blake's 7 ever published.
I suppose that if there's one thing that guarantees that a reference book will be met with scowls of skepticism by a reading
public, it'll be seeing the words "unofficial" or "unauthorised" in its title. Given that Moore and Stevens had to plaster
both of them on the front cover of Liberation for legal reasons, they may well have reduced what's already likely to
be a limited audience. Which is a pity really, because, in contrast with almost every other Blake's 7 book ever released,
this one's a very fine piece of work.
Actually, any publication that has the word "official" on the cover is more of a turn-off for me, as I just know when I
see it that I'm going to end up getting only the details that the originators want me to read. This is underlined by the fact
that Tony Attwood's Programme Guide, which tries to do much the same job as Liberation, is a damp squib (admittedly,
I can't find the word "official" on the cover of the Programme Guide, but you know what I mean), while Liberation is
the new benchmark.
It's available in hardback or paperback, each one with its own, very different cover. The picture on the hardback is of
a man teleporting (the outline looks like Avon), and although it's only hand-drawn, being Blake's 7 it looks far more
convincing than the teleport effects in the series itself. The illustration on the cover of the paperback (which is the version
I got) is... well it's a little difficult to describe in fact. The first thing I thought of when I saw it was The Restaurant
At The End Of The Universe, but I'm sure it's nothing to do with that. There seems to be some giant, indescribable object
in orbit above the Earth, but I can't say what it is yet. Is it the London leaving Earth? Hmm, doesn't look much like
it. I'm sure everyone else who's seen it has worked out what it is, but not me of course... no, don't tell me, anyone! I'll
figure it out.
The... no! Stop trying to tell me! I told you, I want to work it out for myself.
The presentation is outstanding. It's quite the paradox that every bit of published work based on Blake's 7 that
Alan Stevens has done has been far more polished, far better designed, and far better packaged than B7 itself ever
was. Explain that if you can. (Well that's easy actually, and can be summed up in five words... Seventies Aunty Beeb effects
budgets.) In some ways it almost detracts from the book, as it makes it seem less authentically B7.
The book is divided up into the compulsory four sections, with each season of the series getting one section dedicated
to it. Some of the level of detail for each episode can leave the more casual members of the audience feeling slightly dazed.
Time of transmission, length of episode down to the exact second, full cast list (including actors left uncredited on-screen)...
>sheesh< this is Dwayne Dibbly heaven. I'm sure I'm not the only one who skips over those sorts of details without
a second glance, but kudos to the writers for making allowances for those fans who wear parkas and carry a rucksack wherever
they go. There are relatively few pictures in the book, a restriction caused by its unauthorised status presumably. Call me
an intellectual snob, but I'm one of those people who prefer it that way. If I wanted to look at pictures I'd go to a gallery.
I buy books to read them. It's a simple argument, it's an old argument, but it's still true. (That's why it's an old argument,
because it's enduring.)
Each episode analysis is detailed, well thought out, and explained in lively, accessible English, without ever becoming
simplistic or condescending. The writers' close knowledge of the series shines through in a way that Tony Attwood's never
did (assuming he ever had a close knowledge of it!), but it seldom gets pretentious or swotty in the way that John
Kenneth Muir's History and Critical Analysis of Blake's 7 apparently reads as being (NOTE: I haven't read Muir's book.
I'm only quoting what seems to be the majority opinion of it. I must be careful about that as I firmly disagree with the majority
opinions of, among other things, Avon: A Terrible Aspect and Voice From The Past). There's rarely a feeling
of being lectured, or, as Vila would say, a feeling that we "should be taking notes."
There are many interesting insights into the making of individual episodes, with numerous little stories and anecdotes
that most viewers probably never knew. For instance, did you know that Stratford Johns buggered up his last line in Games,
which probably explains why so many people are confused by the ending? (Although, worryingly enough, I never was, which suggests
to me that I never understood it in the first place and just didn't realise.) Much information is drawn directly from the
original scripts, which have clearly been examined and dissected ad infinitum. Any long-running confusion or Blake's
7 moment that you've never been able to get your head round, well, if there's a rational explanation this is the place
to find it. Although to be fair, Moore and Stevens are not so blinded with affection for the series that they don't firmly
acknowledge where there are serious discrepancies, inconsistencies, or just plain silly mistakes that can't be rationalised,
like the non-stop cavalcade of errors that so tarnish Weapon in series two.
On a personal note, there is a downside to this research for me, because the synopsis of the pilot episode, The Way
Back, effectively and efficiently demolishes the theory I drew up for the origin of the Federation. Stevens and I have
argued for ages about this, and to his credit he never took the easy route to winning by simply pointing out that series producer
David Maloney, who consulted on Liberation, has confirmed that the Federation is not a post-Armageddon society, and
that therefore the theory can't be right. (To clarify, Stevens did mention it, but he didn't use it to lay down the law.)
The details here, I concede, show that the theory is largely untenable, and as Maloney has read and approved them, that would
appear to be that. Curses! (Having said that, I still think you'd have to be a party poop if you're not going to let people
explore their own ideas on such matters, especially when the series did nothing to explore them for itself, but there you
go.) You can read my theory elsewhere on the site, by the way, but it's probably not worth it.
After the sections of programme analyses, there are appendixes dealing with "related" spin-off material. Here, it must
be said, the book heads onto slightly shakier ground, not least because some of the subject matter chosen is of questionable
relevance. For obvious reasons, Paul Darrow's Avon: A Terrible Aspect, Tony Attwood's Afterlife, and the two
BBC audio plays by Barry Letts are all compulsory inclusions - not least because they carry the official Blake's 7 logo.
Equally, Stevens' own The Mark Of Kane and The Logic of Empire are fair enough inclusions, even though they
don't carry the official logo (the nearest being forewords inside the cassette sleeves referring to Blake's Seven
- Seven the word not 7 the number). However, it becomes a real stretch accepting the Kaldor City
series and its precursor, Chris Boucher's novel Corpse Marker, being included too. I don't care what anyone tells me;
Carnell from Weapon may appear in it, and Paul Darrow may play a character with Avon's voice all the way through it,
but Kaldor's really a Dr Who spin-off, not Blake's 7. Maybe I'll understand its inclusion if I ever manage
to get my head round Kaldor - I seem to be the only person who's heard the series and can't quite see what's so unutterably
fabulous about it (love letters gag apart) - but as things stand it seems a little like it's been crowbarred in here. (Look
at it this way; Merlin and Mordred ('Mogdred') used to appear regularly in Knightmare, but you wouldn't expect a synopsis
of Knightmare in a book discussing the legends of King Arthur.) To be fair to the writers, it wasn't their choice to
include Kaldor, which wasn't even in the original draft. They were asked to slot it in by the publisher, who sees it
as more of a Blake's 7 spin-off than a Dr Who one. Go figure...
The best aspect (no pun intended) of the appendixes was the essay about Avon: A Terrible Aspect, which was a cause
of much vigorous nodding of my head as I read it, as it's the only review of the novel I've ever seen - apart, dare I say
it, from my own - that manages to maintain an air of common sense and not disappear into brainless storms of outrage. Most
fans when discussing A:ATA tend to pick up on some of the sillier mistakes in it and end up talking exclusively about
them as if they're the be-all-and-end-all of the whole thing. Thus the book usually gets roasting after roasting after roasting,
all of them undeserved, or at least insanely exaggerated. While not hesitating to highlight the flaws and errors in the book,
Moore and Stevens don't allow themselves to get caught up in them or to ignore its positive side, and therefore manage to
give a balanced, fair and reasonable assessment. They criticise what deserves to be criticised, but don't lose their heads
over it. For managing that alone, the writers deserve a prize! (Although to be honest, I don't think it's nearly as difficult
to achieve as some fans make it sound.)
In amongst all this grovelling praise, I must further temper my enthusiasm with more notes of caution.
Firstly, reading through some of the features that offer theoretical ideas and explanations, there does seem to be a tone
of overriding certainty about the conclusions drawn, as though the writers are forgetting that they're only forwarding theories
and not established facts. For instance, while I've always found the suspicions in the long-running debates about Olag Gan
very believable, at the same time alternative explanations could fit the facts as well. Unfortunately, the theory is put forward
here with such a bludgeoning conviction and without really acknowledging the room for counterarguments, that you'd be left
feeling embarrassed - or even slightly scared - to say, "Well, actually, I'm not sure I agree with that..." (People on the
Lysator newsgroups will recognise this experience, which is usually answered with the tag "<In that very small voice from
behind the sofa>"!)
It's a game all B7 fans play at some time of course, but in the end the writers are really just offering reasons
within the confines of the storyline to rationalise the real problem i.e. the generally poor writing of Gan as a character,
a problem that exists more or less outside the confines of the story. This fact is very obvious because, as I say,
we all rationalise B7's little weaknesses all the time, yet it reads like Moore and Stevens are rather trying
to avoid mentioning it, which feels a little insulting to the readers' intelligence.
Secondly, and in sharp contrast to what I mentioned above about A:ATA, the critical review of Afterlife was
over the top in much the same way that other fans usually go for Paul Darrow's throat. Yes, I know I've given Afterlife,
and indeed Tony Attwood, a lot of stick in my time, including in this very review (and most of it is well deserved I might
add). But that's only me talking in general terms and in general circumstances. If ever I was to sit down and actually review
the book in full, I'd try and temper things a lot more and analyse things much more carefully and dispassionately than usual.
Most pertinently, I'd make more of an effort to point out positive aspects of the book.
This, by the way, is precisely why I've never sat down and written such a review - I don't want to be reasonable
to Afterlife, and I don't want to put myself in a position where I have to give it due credit. In fact, this was exactly
the quandary the writers were in when they wrote the synopsis here. They didn't want to be reasonable either but, given the
referential nature of Liberation as a project, they were kind of stuck with having to review Afterlife and couldn't
quite find the necessary words to do so fairly. For what it's worth, I don't particularly disagree with what's in the article
as far as it goes, but it's harsh and doesn't give enough acknowledgment to the good points that the book has, however
few in number they undoubtedly are.
But even these reservations are more divergences of opinion than out-and-out flaws. As ever, Moore and Stevens have done
a fully professional job on a non-professional basis, which is more than the likes of George Spenton-Foster or Trevor Hoyle
managed a lot of the time on a fully professional basis. (I was going to add Attwood into that list but I've decided
to stop picking on him for the time being. Enjoy it while it lasts, Attwood!) No other Blake's 7 book, be it of this
type or of a more highbrow design, can compete with it for comprehensiveness or accuracy, and in my opinion hardly any can
match it for quality. I would argue that it's for established fans of the series much more than for newcomers, but that's
okay - this review's meant for established fans of the series as well. Heartily recommended.
And for the final time, STOP TRYING TO TELL ME WHAT THE ILLUSTRATION ON THE BLOODY COVER'S MEANT TO BE!!!!!!