Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blakes 7: A Mirror Trek

Friends who shall remain nameless copied all 52 episodes (1978-1981) of Blakes 7 onto DVDs for me, (why isn't this available in US-compatible DVD-format?) and risked their lives smuggling them through international airports so I can finally watch this British sci-fi show I have read about.

(If you live in town, I'd be happy to share.)

Last night I watched the first four episodes, with the cat I am housesitting. He rated them highly, as they kept me on the couch where he could sleep companionably.

The show is an absolutely fascinating tour through 20th century political philosophy and pop culture sci-fi:
A Captain Kirk-type leader (Blake, who champions freedom and sports Starsky-like puffy hair) meets 1984 (a dystopian future), on a Dr Who budget (the prison spaceship seemed to be fueled by someone pouring vinegar into baking soda).
B7's creator, Terry Nation, also created the Daleks, so it's not surprising the show has that wonderful "we made these robots out of garbage cans" feel.

However, the special effects and costumes are about as far as the humor extends. This is not goofy, good-natured sci-fi.

Blake is a rebel against a Big Brother Federation of planets--not your Star Trek Friendly Father Federation--which controls its citizens by drugging their food and water with suppressants.
He and a ragtag band of criminals escape in an alien starship, the Liberator, and--for mixed motives--engage in a guerrilla war against the Federation.

A bit like Che Guevara and his scruffy band wandering around in the jungles of Bolivia, living off tapir meat (really, among other things)--and with the same ultimate success.
[Photo of Che Guevara's corpse, October 10, 1967, taken by photographer Freddy Alborta in Vallegrande, Bolivia.]

I suspect Joss Whedon was going for this morally ambiguous, gritty grain in Firefly; but he didn't succeed. That show, otherwise similar to Blakes 7, was fundamentally too romantic: you never really think in Serenity, for instance, that the good guys won't win in the end, even at a high price.

B7's far more disturbing.
Last night, after watching Blakes 7 for 3.5 hours, I dreamt about being a member of a resistance group, some of whom died, horribly, of starvation.
An odd subconscious choice, as I've been stuffed with holiday cookies and candy for four days; it came, I suppose, from the show's first episode, in which rebels fast to avoid the suppressants.

Firefly and Star Trek never gave me bad dreams.
But Blakes 7 is as if someone created a show about a group of rebels operating in the evil, alternate Star Trek universe of the "Mirror, Mirror" episode--one of that show's only ventures to the dark side.
In fact, in that episode, the "good" Kirk does encourages the "bad" Spock to lead such a rebellion:

Kirk: Be the captain of this Enterprise. What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It's up to you. In every revolution, there's one man with a vision.

Mirror Spock: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.

What would that have looked like? Nothing like the optimistic, silly, gung-ho Star Trek I love; somewhat like B7.

P.S. Seems I've been writing about revolutions of various sorts lately, and I want to say that while I am interested in the arts, philosophies, and personalities involved, I am not a fan of violent revolution.
I regret, for instance, that my country didn't take the gradual route to freedom from colonial rule, like Canada did, instead of taking up arms, which left a national legacy of turning to violence as a "solution."

Of course, I speak from the privilege of safety:
if I were desperate, like Blake's compatriots, I probably would do what they do. But god spare me from tapir-eating purists.


Jennifer said...

I have given you nightmares! My holiday season is complete! *beams fondly* (Though eek, such nightmares!)

Would you believe I've been in the middle of an email to you for about four days now? Niece-time was very precious and left little email-time. But I'm in Florida now and can continue writing soon, although I suspect my advice to grit it through the first episode because the tone is so different than the others might have to be revised or deleted. :)

I might have to learn more about Che, since yeah, it sounds like Terry Nation might have had him somewhat in mind--although any fervent ideologue being followed by much less idealistic folk for their own ends have never been in short supply.

Word verification is "horrefac," which it sounds like your nightmares were!

fresca said...

I have dreamt about it again! Not a nightmare, but intense. That's what I get for watching it for 3.5 hours every night, four nights in a row!
I wonder what the cat is dreaming...

deanna said...

We would come over and watch, too, if we were closer. I thought I remembered Tim mentioning this show so asked and he did see a few episodes long ago. It sounds like the nightmares are worth it for the gritty, low-budget *reality*.

fresca said...

Hey, Deanna! That would be fun! Sci-fi TV night!
I could lend the DVDs to you, through the mail, if you want to give it a try. They are good, I just have a low tolerance for anguish.