Amid the countless cult shows that fade into TV history, relegated to the memories and DVD collections of true believers, there are always some that seem destined to one day return to our screens.
One such show is Blake’s 7. In fact, it almost seems hard to believe that it’s managed to languish on the development back-burner this long.
For the uninitiated, Blake’s 7 was a BBC sci-fi drama that ran for four series from 1978, and managed to rise above budgetary constraints to connect with a mainstream audience. At a time when Star Trek had defined the future by boldly going where no man had gone before, Terry Nation’s unapologetically dark and dystopian vision offered a subversive narrative counterpoint.
Originally conceived as ‘The Dirty Dozen in space’, much of the drama hinged upon the complex psychological interplay of a diverse and engaging group of characters. Forced to band together as outlaws of a totalitarian Terran Federation, Blake’s band of renegades, including the memorable, morally ambivalent anti-hero Avon, struggled with tensions that were often as much the result of the internal group dynamic as they were of their fugitive status. The result was a show that not only regularly achieved impressive viewing figures, but also one that still finds an audience today, through DVD, audio productions and related novels.
But it’s the long-mooted prospect of new adventures on the small screen that remains, of course, top of the wish list for many fans of the original show. In fact, the greenlight seemed tantalisingly close in 2008, when B7 Productions announced that scripts were in development for a new television mini-series, to be commissioned by Sky. Sadly, however, the project never reached fruition, and was eventually shelved.
Since then, the long-awaited return of Blake’s 7 seems to have lost momentum. Although B7 Productions continue to actively pursue the property, the necessary backing for a new TV project has yet to emerge. But surely, in this age of successful remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and a distinctly post-modern attitude towards the recycling of television and movie content, it’s just a matter of time before the project finds new impetus and an opportunity to reach out to a modern audience? Surely there couldn’t be a better time for a new series?
Anyone still traumatised by the disturbance in the force felt upon the introduction of Jar Jar Binks to the Star Wars mythology would be forgiven for sounding a note of caution here. It may seem reasonable to conclude that some legends are best left preserved in the original packaging, rather than risk tainting the cherished nostalgia of beloved childhood shows. But, on balance, such concerns are almost certainly outweighed in light of the success of reinvigorated shows such as Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica.
In fact, we need look no further than the way in which movie-goers positively fell over themselves at the multiplex to embrace a vibrant new take on something as iconic as Star Trek for evidence of a modern audience’s appetite for exhuming cult classics, dusting them down and giving them a resounding slap around the phaser banks.
There are, of course, a number of possible angles for such a project, as the B7 audio dramas have explored, but each would have merits and drawbacks to be considered.
A reboot of the original story would obviously offer the opportunity to recreate the ambitious universe that formed the backdrop for the show, with the benefit of digital-era visual effects, and a chance to examine the themes and characters from a modern perspective. Re-casting iconic characters, however, carries with it an inherent challenge to the preconceptions and sensitivities of viewers who are familiar with the original show.
For many, there is, perhaps, also a certain masochistic kind of nostalgia for the original low-budget DIY aesthetic of a talking plastic box full of LEDs, that somehow still managed to be surprisingly convincing as the advanced, irascible supercomputer, Orac. For some, it could be argued that the intangible essence of a classic show is inevitably lost, to some extent at least, in an attempted Trinny and Susannah-style makeover, although it’s fair to point out that this didn’t seem to do Apollo and Starbuck any harm.
While there are undoubtedly some interesting character background stories to be mined, a prequel would probably be the least likely path to choose. Not only does this approach tend to lock the story’s trajectory, but it also more often explored primarily when a show is perceived to have reached a creative cul-de-sac and is looking for new ways to extend the franchise and appeal to a hardcore fanbase. Judging by the fate of shows like Enterprise and Caprica, this may not immediately leap to mind as the most viable way forward.
A straight sequel, on the other hand, has the advantage of picking up a new narrative thread. But in this case, it could be argued, the gambit of dispensing with central characters so integral to the drama could conceivably make it harder to recapture the appeal and spirit of the show. On the positive side, however, a Next Generation approach does make it possible to bring the clock forward, affording considerable creative freedom. It worked out nicely for Jean-Luc, but it is by no means an approach that is entirely without potential difficulties.
Whichever way you look at it, the extent to which these or other possible scenarios would appeal to both new and established viewers is ultimately debatable, but it’s clear that there is no shortage of possible ways forward for a show with an existing following to build upon.
So, given that Blake’s 7 would still seem to have plenty of potential left to explore, perhaps revivalists shouldn’t give up just yet on the return of a show that, ultimately, has stood the test of time armed with nothing more than engaging characters, a dynamic narrative premise, a healthy suspension of disbelief and props that looked – and let’s be honest here – suspiciously like a set of hastily modified hair curlers.
Or maybe, in the final analysis, this is all just a case of wishful nostalgia. Perhaps, in reality, it’s time to put Blake and his band of rebels out to pasture with quiet dignity, surrendering all hope in capitulation to the might of the Terran Federation and its ruthless, expansionist pursuit of galactic hegemony. But whether we choose to resign ourselves to this fate just yet or not, it is certainly true that – for the time being at least – the closure that was never quite realised in the enigmatic, ambiguous showdown of the final episode will continue to elude us.