Review: Blakes 7 – Origins


The complete first season of Blake's 7 (+ Redemption) has been published as a limited edition collection of novelisations.

Based on Terry Nation's original scripts plus additional reference material, each book comprises two episodes from the TV series. These have been adapted by well-known writers into full-length hardback books, and released as a single box set.

The Way Back/Space Fall by Paul Cornell
Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad by Marc Platt
The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy by Gary Russell
Mission to Destiny/Duel by Jacqueline Rayner
Project Avalon/Breakdown by Steve Cole
Bounty/Deliverance by Una McCormack
Orac/Redemption by James Goss

Review by M1795537OCVirn

It is forty-five years since Blake’s 7 first aired on television, and fans have been watching and re-watching every minute of it ever since. For almost half a century they have pored over every detail of sets and costumes, visited filming locations, discussed the nuances of every relationship, each speech; have noted the continuity gaps, the anachronisms, the repurposing of props and models; have gleefully absorbed tales that emerged from behind the scenes. It has all been discussed and analysed within an inch of its life. What else is there to say?

Quite a lot, apparently.

Terry Nation wrote all fourteen of the first TV scripts novelised in Origins, and it is thanks to his estate that Big Finish and the writers have had access to his material. More has also come from those who together created the TV programmes. Seven different writers and an editorial team have now worked through all the evidence, combining it into their readable and believable tribute to the originals. Having them in hardback is an added pleasure.

The books are laid out in a standard format with biographical details of both Terry Nation and the individual Origins author at the end.

The writers usually quote the TV scripts verbatim, working them into an ongoing narrative. There are occasional departures from what is heard in the episodes, but the changes are minor and their effect is minimal.

Fans will be thrilled to see some of their questions answered, such as: what happened to the bodies of the first people sent across to the Liberator? It’s finally pointed out that Vila’s bright red box is not good camouflage, and a long-standing argument is put to rest – it’s spacials, not spatials.

Each writer brings us something different. Briefly:

The Way Back/Space Fall by Paul Cornell
Action-based and fast-moving, the writer follows the televised version closely and fills in some of the inconsistencies and recognised continuity gaps from the TV episodes to give the story more substance. However, I sometimes found myself having to backtrack to understand his text, because the meaning wasn’t always clear.

The opening line: Blake was certain was immediately distracting. It begs the question: of what was Blake certain? We are not told. As a sentence it doesn’t feel complete, and it is only by reading further that we realise the intended meaning is that ‘Blake had certainty.’

Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad by Marc Platt
Marc has some interesting theories to explain a few missing links, and more about Zen’s capabilities. I loved some of his descriptions, such as that of being in space …where birthdays and even Wednesdays had no meaning…’ It felt like there was much that had to be left out in the final version.

The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy by Gary Russell
Again, the focus is on the action, moving the story along at pace. There was some nice transcription and development, but also clumsy wording at times. There were several sentences I wanted to re-write! That said, I liked his explanation of how The Lost came to be outcasts, and the background to their situation on the planet. I wasn’t sure his interlacing of the two stories added to the whole, but it was interesting.

Mission to Destiny/Duel by Jacqueline Rayner.
I enjoyed the background information she gives on the characters aboard the Ortega, and especially the way she uses Cally’s telepathic abilities, creating natural links between the two stories. It is easy to read and well-constructed, with plenty of detail. There’s a really good depiction of the relationship between Avon and Blake, along with wise philosophical asides on war and its consequences. I also liked her ‘epilogue’ which shows how well she understands Blake’s 7.

Project Avalon/Breakdown by Steve Cole
I noted occasional small lapses from the TV dialogue, which might simply suggest he was working from the script rather than being immersed in the episodes. At one point, he suggests (in my view rightly!) that Blake’s whole philosophy can be summed up in two words – ‘Let’s go!’. Again, there is rather more focus on the action than on peoples’ reactions, plus a few odd details that feel out of place. On the other hand, his use of hallucinations around Gan’s failing limiter is plausible, and his justification for the jokey endings of many episodes rings true.

Bounty/Deliverance by Una McCormack
Una’s deep understanding of Blake’s 7 shows in her crisp, concise additions around the given dialogue that bring the characters to life. She suggests a basis for Jenna’s motivation, and explains much more of the character of Tyce than can be seen in the TV episode. Blake’s reasons for seeking out Sarkoff are also developed, making them more coherent and believable. Her writing certainly made me think.
Una’s experience shows in that her novelisation is confident, well-constructed, easy to read and even manages a topical reference – Trooper Quex, indeed!

Orac/ Redemption by James Goss
James uses his talent for describing the same scenario from different viewpoints. This treatment allows the reader to see the stories through the eyes of various individuals, including phibians. He reaches back through the pages of the script to bring out details that make sense.

I find his depth of characterisation outstanding. For example, he describes a simple shared smile with the telling comment, Jenna liked Cally. Without Cally she’d have to find the boys amusing by herself, which speaks volumes about relationships aboard the Liberator. Of Ensor he says, Ensor had never really understood dignity, illustrating an aspect of the man that we recognise, but didn’t really see until James shows us.

Overall, in reading Origins, unfortunately I have to admit that at times I struggled with the use of non-standard English. Ignoring the rules of grammar can give a more dramatic effect, but it doesn’t always work, and the meaning of what is written can suffer.

There are places where things became ambiguous or confusing. What is the reader to make of this in ‘The Way Back’: Stannis knew a prestige when she saw one…? or my favourite, going through the standard check with a sound in his voice like each one of them was still important?

Although I have to admit that I was amused to learn about Servalan’s seat of power (her power base, perhaps?) - and is surlily (sic) even a word?

Similarly, I wasn’t a fan of using non-standard punctuation around speech, nor over-long dialogue tags before a speech, that often ended without the necessary comma to designate the speaker. It all makes me wonder if the editing phase was a little rushed. Sadly, we also don’t have the - by now standard among fans - + quotation marks + when Zen speaks. Instead, he is given italics.

That said, regenerating the first series of Blake’s 7 – all thirteen episodes, plus one pinched from Series Two – into seven novelisations is a huge undertaking. It’s almost like archaeology, putting something together from bits and pieces, to form an interpretation of the whole. But that’s what Origins is – one interpretation. There were ideas in there that I didn’t fully agree with (Vila does NOT need a sonic screwdriver!), and every reader might find issues of their own, but that’s not a problem. Differing interpretations mean we can go on discussing it!

Origins is undoubtedly a massive achievement. Time will tell whether all the effort was worth it. I enjoyed reading all seven books (even the parts that made me cross!) and I think you would, too.

Blake’s 7: Origins was published on 27th March 2023, marking 45 years since the original broadcast of the first season’s final episode, Orac. The box set of seven books is available at the pre-order price of £99.99 (plus postage & packing) for a limited time, exclusively from Big Finish.