Blake's 7
The Complete Series One

Starring: Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Sally Kynvette, Michael Keating, David Jackson and Jan Chappell
BBC Worldwide
RRP 49.99
Certificate: PG
Available now

Roj Blake overcomes the mental conditioning of the corrupt Federation. He learns that he was once a freedom fighter, and that his family paid the ultimate price for his crimes. Sentenced to a penal planet on trumped-up charges, Blake allies himself with an unlikely band of convicts. Taking possession of an abandoned but highly advanced alien spaceship, the
Liberator, they begin to fight back...

The DVD release of this classic BBC space opera has been long awaited, in more ways than one - the release date had been put back considerably since the original announcement. Now, at last, we can enjoy Blake's 7 in crystal clarity - well, as much clarity as the videotaped interiors and 16mm location filming will allow.

There's a distinct flavour of Doctor Who to this series, which is hardly surprising when you consider the number of Who alumni who worked on the show. The creator and writer, Terry Nation, is of course the man who brought us the Daleks. His hand can be seen in the creation of the teleport bracelet, a useful device for driving the plot forward by being lost, broken, stolen, etc, very much like the TARDIS' fluid link in the very first Dalek story, or the time ring in Genesis of the Daleks. The threat of radiation sickness, another Nation standby, also rears its head in the episode Orac.

Occasional Who writer Chris Boucher undertakes the script-editing chores, injecting a welcome dose of cynicism into characters such as the Computer Operator (Nigel Lambert) in The Way Back, pilot Artix (Norman Tipton) in Space Fall and, of course, the regular characters of Avon (Paul Darrow) and Vila (Michael Keating).

Former Who director David Maloney steps up as producer, while other familiar names, including Michael E. Briant, Pennant Roberts and Douglas Camfield, take the helm as directors of the individual episodes.

Most conspicuously of all, composer Dudley Simpson (bless 'im) provides incidental music that is virtually indistinguishable from his work on that other popular BBC science fiction show.

The production values are slightly higher than those of contemporary (i.e. late 1970s) Doctor Who. Even so, with the notable exception of the impressive Liberator flight deck and model design, many of the sets and effects look rather shoddy by today's standards.

However, the look of the series is not really what we're here for: it's the writing and acting that make Blake's 7. Some of the plots may be hackneyed (this is Terry Nation, after all) but much of the dialogue and many of the characters are excellent, especially the self-satisfied Avon, the cowardly Vila, the supercilious ship's computer Zen (voiced by Peter Tuddenham) and the recurring villains, the sensual Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and the brutal Space Commander Travis (Stephen Greif), both of whom are introduced in Seek-Locate-Destroy. Even during the weaker episodes, you're never far from a snappy bit of dialogue, such as "I plan to live forever - or die trying," (Vila in Time Squad) and "Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable" (Avon in Breakdown).

On the subject of characters, it was only as I watched Series One this time around that I realised how much of a debt Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda owes to this show. The crew composition is markedly similar, particularly the dynamic that exists between Blake/Hunt and Avon/Tyr. Like Blake (Gareth Thomas), Dylan Hunt is an idealist who wants to change the political structure of the known universe, though he wants to re-establish a benign regime rather than topple a corrupt one. He teams up with a bunch of reformed (well, slightly reformed!) criminals in order to achieve that goal.

Like Avon, Tyr Anasazi is a callous pragmatist, who repeatedly pours scorn on Hunt's idealism and, it seems, would happily let him fall victim to those ideals in order to take possession of his awesome spaceship. When it comes to the crunch, however, Avon/Tyr respects Blake/Hunt and actually upholds his ideals.

Pilot and ex-smuggler Beka has obvious similarities to Jenna (Sally Kynvette), while the craven Harper is akin to Vila. Andromeda, the ship's vocal artificial intelligence, is analogous to Zen, while Rev Bem, an honourable person who is a victim of his own violent tendencies, is Gan (David Jackson). By an amazing coincidence, neither Gan nor Rev makes it to the end of their respective second season. Finally Trance, the alien with paranormal powers, is Cally (Jan Chappell) with a bit of Orac thrown in for good measure.

There isn't much in the way of special features in this collection - but at this price, who's complaining? There are commentaries for Space Fall (recorded by Michael Keating, Sally Kynvette and David Maloney), Seek-Locate-Destroy (by Stephen Greif, Michael Keating and Jacqueline Pearce) and Project Avalon (by Stephen Greif, Sally Kynvette and Jacqueline Pearce). It's a shame that none of the more major performers, such as Thomas or Darrow, could have been hired to provide comments. There are also a handful of deleted scenes and bloopers, character profiles (comprising clips from the series), and an excerpt from Blue Peter showing how to make a teleport bracelet - one of the programme's less naff-looking projects. Each disc begins with a CGI opening sequence, though I could have done without the "Brian May"-style riff at the end!

There is a technical issue with this box set, in that a dodgy layer transition halfway through each disc can cause the playback to freeze. This even affects Disc 5, even though this volume only contains Orac and the extras, and thus didn't really need a layer change. The fault only registers on certain models of DVD player, including the Pioneer DV-646, 656 and 717 (but not the 565), and the Toshiba SD-100 and 300. If you're lucky (Panasonic E30, HS2 and Sony DVP-NS700 and DVP-NS305 users rejoice) you won't even notice the problem. If you reach the 29th minute of Space Fall without seizing up, then you should be OK. If not, knock a few points off my mark out of ten, because it will spoil your enjoyment.

Richard McGinlay

Buy this item online
We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal! Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£33.99 (Amazon.co.uk)
£37.99 (Blackstar.co.uk)
£45.99 (Streetsonline.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.