What happens on Gauda Prime, stays on Gauda Prime

Blakes 7

What do you do when you want to review something, you know you like it, and yet you cannot express or do not know what you like about it?

The past year I have been watching Blakes 7 on my laptop, a lot. (The name, by the way, ought to be Blake’s 7, but the BBC never bothered to fix it.) With all the TV and film science fiction I could watch, I nevertheless pick Blakes 10 out of 10 times.

And for most of that year I have been wondering: what is it I like so much about this? Especially given that so much of the series stinks. The acting, the props, the plots, it’s all pretty abysmal at times. The good stuff should stick out but it doesn’t seem to.

Blakes 7 is a late 1970s sci-fi TV series with hammy acting, cardboard props and stories with sometimes huge plot holes.

What I like about it:

* The chatty bits. Whether it’s the bad guys or the worse guys, they always have these enlightening strategic discussions before they plunge into the action that are much more interesting than the action itself.

[Federation Space Headquarters. Servalan’s office.]

RONTANE: Which is why the President has asked me to come here personally; to express his own very grave concern over this matter. The destruction of the communications center has far-reaching political consequences. Controllers from some of the Outer Planets, whose loyalty to the Federation is, uh, delicately balanced, have been openly critical of the Administration’s defense system. There are even one or two radical voices that speak of withdrawal from the Federation.

BERCOL: My department has done all in its power to suppress information about Blake and his actions — there is a total blackout on all reports concerning him — but still the stories get out. They spread by word of mouth, by whispers, by rumour; each time the story is told it is elaborated upon. Any damage to the Federation is attributed to Blake. The smallest incident is exaggerated out of all proportion until it becomes a major event. Blake is becoming a legend. His name is a rallying call for malcontents of all persuasions. He must be stopped.

SERVALAN: Gentlemen: I share the President’s grave concern. And I am aware of the danger should Blake become a legend. But let us keep this matter in its correct perspective. It is true that Blake has command of a superb space vehicle, but he is just a man, backed by a handful of criminals, and that is all. He is not invulnerable, nor is he superhuman. He is just a man, who has been extremely lucky to evade capture — so far.

RONTANE: With respect, Supreme Commander, we are aware of the facts. They are simply that with all the resources that the Federation can call upon, this one vulnerable, lucky man is still free to cause havoc.

SERVALAN: You have some criticism of my handling of this matter, Secretary Rontane?

RONTANE: Not at all, I hoped merely to convey the concern shown by the President when he briefed me for this visit.

BERCOL: It would be very helpful to all of us if we knew — if you could indicate what action you will NOW be taking against Blake.

SERVALAN: Very well, Councillor Bercol. You may tell the President that I am appointing a Space Commander to take absolute control of this matter. He will be exclusively concerned to seek, locate, and destroy Blake.

BERCOL: Oh, excellent, excellent.

* I also like the fact that the bridge of Blake’s ship Liberator looks more like a living room than a bridge. They even serve drinks there from time to time. (Apparently Soma & Adrenaline is a popular cocktail.)

* I further like that there is not much hand holding by the story teller. There is a scene in the Firefly movie Serenity—a movie that otherwise reminds me a lot of Blakes—in which the bad guy starts to explain the way of the world to his victim. There is little of that in Blakes, and when it happens events often make it clear that the exposé doesn’t actually explain the way of the world, but is just a character’s opinion.

J.W. Herring expands on this a bit in his contrasting review of Blakes 7 episode Duel and Star Trek TOS episode Arena:

The whole purpose of that ending is nothing more than ethical pornography for the viewer – so that he can pat himself on the back and say “yes, like Captain Kirk, I would have spared the giant aggressive lizard who destroyed Cestus III and Redshirt O’Herlihy and who was trying to kill me too because killing is WRONG. If only, if only the rest of humanity were as advanced as I am.”

Blakes 7 is the best televised science-fiction that has ever been made. That’s just my opinion.

I am afraid none of this is going to convince anybody. Should you download the show from Bittorrent or thereabouts to check it out, be forewarned that the first episode introduces a lot of characters that you won’t see again. That episode exists just to introduce the title character, Roj Blake (Thomas Gareth). In fact the show doesn’t really get underway until the fourth episode

In the Netherlands the Free Record Shop tends to sell the show on DVD for 15 euro per season.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Science regressing—why Scott got scurvy

Maciej Ceglowski has an excellent piece on the failure of the Scott expedition to the South Pole:

Now, I had been taught in school that scurvy had been conquered in 1747, when the Scottish physician James Lind proved in one of the first controlled medical experiments that citrus fruits were an effective cure for the disease. […]

[…] Somehow a highly-trained group of scientists at the start of the 20th century knew less about scurvy than the average sea captain in Napoleonic times.

The scary bit is that scientific knowledge can be lost, and not just that: scientific progress can make it harder to regain that knowledge.

Another example would be the rediscovery of the fact that hot water can freeze faster than cold water. Tanzanian high-school student Erasto Mpemba apparently got ridiculed time and again for his rediscovery, and if it weren’t for his stubbornness might never have published about the effect that now carries his name.

See also: