So thorough is my space-themed science fiction obsession that factors such as decade of release or the regional games the studios like to play with their DVD releases matter not. Such was the case with Blakes 7 (why no apostrophe I wonder)- Having been a child in the late 70s during the Star Wars phenomenon, I've been vaguely aware of this series' existence for quite a long time but only recently became curious to the point of plunking down the cash for the complete 20-disc collection and digging out the ol region-free DVD player to determine what I've been missing.
Created by Terry Nation and produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Blakes 7 comprises four seasons (called series oddly enough here), each consisting of 13 50-minute episodes, and were broadcast in the United Kingdom between January 1978 and December 1981 on BBC television
I suppose a good place to begin this critique would be to mention the surprisingly good video transfer. So often with material of this era, the transition to digital clarity results in an overload of dust contamination from the original film, popping, hazing and so on. Somehow this isn't the case with Blakes 7 as the image quality is far sharper than expected. The show does retain a certain "washed out" quality as a result of the limited color pallet but that's hardly the fault of the transfer process. Additionally the Dolby surround sound is an especially nice treat considering that viewers were likely limited to mono audio during the show's initial broadcast.
That said I suppose it would be fair to say Blakes 7 surpassed my expectations in some areas but failed to live up to the abundant hype heaped on the show throughout the years in others. Beginning with the good, there are definitely some interesting concepts and stories found throughout the 4-seasons. Rather like the original Star Trek (in fact a couple episodes do come dangerously close to mimicking Trek plots), the show thrives on expansive-thinking and open-mindedness on the subject of space travel. Many of the internal struggles center on the characters themselves but unlike say, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, never to where the show is a "drama-first, science fiction second" affair. In my opinion, this is a good thing!
Additionally, the show is a serial with characters that grow and change over the course of the story (another nice touch). Unlike say Farscape for example, Blakes 7 bounces between self-contained episodes and those that truly end incomplete without resorting to the famous "to be continued" message.
Now the bad news. There's no getting around the fact that 1978 birthed some pretty hideous television. Regardless of how strong the plots, stories and characters, the show is pretty hard to become lost in thanks to an endless succession of awful special effects, set limitations and pretty silly technology (there is not one, but two British accent equipped talking computers on board).
Then there's the undeniably British slant to it all; not a bad thing in and of itself, it sometimes becomes a little difficult for we American viewers to differentiate between science fiction characterizations and UK cultural commentary of the time (perhaps this trend is strongest witnessed in the second season episode Gambit).
Sadly the show's primary charm takes a serious setback at the onset of the third season onward as many of the main cast had apparently left the show and were written out with incontestable finality.
In all Blakes 7 represents a very interesting blend of traits and, even after viewing it in this day and age of computer generated image overload, ADD-style editing and production value that favors flash over substance, it's clear why this series has gained such a cult following since its inception. Late 70s/ early 80s science fiction television was pretty disastrous overall; just look at Buck Rogers, the original Battlestar Galactica (Galactica 80 in particular) or the Starlost to mention a few. In that regard Blakes 7 was unique in being wide in scope, creative in vision and pretty scientifically sound. Even the humor is often sharp and still holds up. Unlike so many shows of the era, the characters are well developed and their ongoing interaction worthy of viewer interest.
The negatives in terms of visuals, effects, choreography and restrictive sets will surely scare off younger sci-fi buffs looking for an alternative to their Stargates and Star Trek Enterprise long before they give the show's good points a chance to shine. I suppose I have the luxury of reviewing this set without the warming glow of nostalgia influencing my opinion (as again, I've only now finally gotten around to checking the show out for the first time).
I suppose if you absolutely demanded a direct comparison to another series, Blakes 7 reminded me a lot of Gerry Anderson's Space: 1999 with its limited British production values more than offset by quality acting and strong, enduring characters. I am left concluding it's certainly a shame the franchise did not get its 2005 two part, three hour miniseries (Blake's 7: Legacy) revival as one need only look at the reimagined Battlestar Galactica versus the original series to realize a new Blakes 7 could be exactly what the science fiction television world at large is missing.