DVD
Blake's 7
The Complete Series Four

Starring: Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Steven Pacey, Josette Simon and Glynis Barber
BBC DVD
RRP 49.99
BBCDVD 1186
Certificate: PG
Available 24 April 2006


Despite the destruction of their ship and the treachery of Servalan, the renegade Avon and his companions continue their fight against the Federation. However, their situation is now more desperate than ever.

Admittedly, three series of Blake's 7 seemed like enough, and with so many changes to the programme's format it looked like there wasn't much scope for going further. Blake was gone. Jenna was gone. The super-spaceship Liberator and its unique computer, Zen, were gone. The Federation - the totalitarian system against which Blake had always fought - had lost its power. Space Commander Travis had died in his vendetta against Blake, and now it looked like the President herself, Servalan, was no more. How could the BBC keep the show going?

By recycling ideas.

With a new crew member and a new spaceship, series four of Blake's 7 got off to a shaky start. Glynis Barber played the latest addition to the Seven, and while Soolin, her character, looked good on paper, Barber never convinced. Her acting was wooden, and irritatingly, she emphasised certain lines by wiggling her eyebrows up and down while speaking. Worse still, the new spaceship, Scorpio, was (no doubt deliberately) the very opposite of the Liberator, and therefore a huge disappointment. It eventually had a teleport and faster engines, but could never hope to match the magnificence of its predecessor. The set of its flight deck was similarly underwhelming. It was clear the BBC did not want to lavish money as it had originally with the opulent Liberator set. The only saving grace was the new computer, Slave. While obviously a replacement for Zen, at least the character was pleasingly different and engaging.

So, Avon and his mates had a spaceship that could outrun Federation ships, featured a teleport facility that no-one else had, and sported a main computer that talked. Very original. There was more recycling to be had, but it was thankfully less clumsy and offensive.

But it wasn't all bad, because series four had exactly what previous series had done with aplomb: great characterisation and interplay. The chemistry between Avon, Vila, Servalan, Orac and Slave was the thing that brought life to each episode. Beyond the naff special effects and cheap sets, there was always witty dialogue and dramatic personal confrontations to enjoy. Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac and Slave) were the show's veterans and knew how to deliver. No matter how bad everything else was, it was the talent of those actors that kept you tuning in every week.

Series four was the last series of Blake's 7, and featured a memorable finale. One, indeed, that caused controversy in the media and outcry by the public. Now released on DVD, fans can relive the conclusion of a show that, despite its short tenure of only four series, conceivably burned brighter than its sister programme, Doctor Who. (No e-mails, please!)

Blake's 7 has already been released on VHS in the past, but, just like the releases of classic Doctor Who on DVD, the Blake's 7 series four box set is something special. The thirteen episodes have been digitally remastered, and the final disc contains over two and a half hours of extras. The icing on the cake is what happens when you make a menu selection: a CGI animation of the Scorpio undertaking a manoeuvre from one of the stories. If only they'd had that kind of technology back then...

While the quality of the episodes is variable, they are all enjoyable. The best are Games, Sand, Orbit and, the very last story to be aired, Blake. Sand is particularly memorable because it is so very different to a typical episode, and Jacqueline Pearce is able to show a side to Servalan that has only been hinted at in the past.

Of course, the extras are what get the fans salivating, and the BBC has not skimped. For example, there is some highly entertaining raw studio material, showing various takes and how the actors behaved, or misbehaved, between shots; a Blue Peter segment on making a Scorpio teleport bracelet; an interview snippet with Terry Nation, the series creator; a documentary on the Radiophonic Workshop and a recent, riveting interview with Paul Darrow. There's more besides, and none of it will disappoint.

In short, despite the weaknesses of series four, this box set is a must-have for any fan.

Jeff Watson

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