A History and Critical Analysis of Blake's 7,
the 1978-1981 British Television Space Adventure

Written by:
John Kenneth Muir
First Published: 1999
Page Count: 223
B/W Photos: 8
Illustrations: 2
Availability: Try Amazon

Trivia:
The book is dedicated "For the Leftwich family. And to the memory of Terry Nation." The two illustrations within are by Mindy Easler.

For more information on A History and Critical Analysis… then you can read this site's Author Interview, conducted in March 2004.

Viewpoint:
A History and Critical Analysis… is one of those (largely) text-only works, bound in a plain red hardback. It's the sort of thing you'd only find in a college library, a book that would be crafted by some old buffer from Oxford with a pipe in his mouth and corduroy elbow pads. An ill-informed rush job of some of that "sci-fi nonsense" while he settles down in an old boy's club with a brandy.

Actually, it's not like that at all. As much as I liked the ultra-technical Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, A History and Critical Analysis… opts for a chattier, more informal style. Not only that, but the establishment-sounding John Kenneth Muir was penning this guide from the US, and had only just entered his 30s as he did so.

As a counterpoint to the fannish Liberation, this is clearly better written and less obviously populist - though both are equally as valid in terms of entertaining reading. Yes, Muir has a tendency to constantly compare the series to other genre shows, (a bit like that episode of Star Trek, "Children of Miri" where Scott made a metaphor on transporters, or that second season Space: 1999 episode…) and on occasion there's a minor factual error that may irritate the very pedantic. (Such as a suggestion that Robert Holmes wrote the Doctor Who story The Seeds of Death). Yet I've seen this book pulled apart on some websites out there, usually by fans who think being "well read" means you've bought every fanzine that contains Blake slash fiction. If you're going to crucify Muir for saying that Blake "systematically smashes each collectible in Sarkoff's collection" (when he really just breaks a single record and threatens to break the rest) or - horror! - using standard expressions that have long been accepted lexicon in media research, then maybe this book isn't for you. For wider circles than the over-initiated then I think this is a more than worthwhile piece.

Okay, there are some legitimate moans with some of the research, and just general typographical errors that you feel should have been picked up on by a good proof-reader. Spelling Sophron as "Sopran" is passable, but five misquotings of the title of City at the Edge of the World show a lack of attention from whoever was checking this research work. In one of the essays Rescue is substituted for Power, and Cally is said to have died on the Liberator in an episode summary. Occasionally there's a "first draft" feel, too, such as musings in Aftermath on why so many races are humanoid and that it was an unanswered question. Muir goes on to speak about Star Trek's "seeding" theory, and the "parent race" theory from The Next Generation. Cut forward to Traitor a season later, and we have talk of how the series solved the humanoid races problem, which was different to how it happened in Star Trek. "Writers insisted the galaxy was full of humans because a race called Preservers had "seeded" them everywhere. In The Next Generation…" We know, John, you told us once already.

The book is divided into five main parts, the largest of which is, naturally, a critical look at each episode. The coverage for each episode is usually consistent from the second season on, ranging around 1 ˝ - 2 pages of text. However, Blake appropriately gets four pages and Rescue struggles to warrant even a single page. This general consistency doesn't apply when Muir is establishing the set-up, with most of the first five stories getting extra-special attention: The Way Back (5 ˝ pages), Space Fall (3 ˝ pages), Cygnus Alpha (5 ˝ pages) and The Web (3 ˝). I spoke of the design - of the photographs, then only a quarter are actually from the series itself. This distracts little, as the work isn't there as an attractive coffee table adornment, but as a worthwhile tome. The comments are interesting and often insightful, though obviously aren't as in-depth as this would be if it was written as a fan work. If that's the sort of thing you're after, then maybe this makes for a complement to Liberation, particularly when they both present such differing takes on elements of the show, ie. Gan. The fan-based book has him as a sex-motivated murderer, while Muir's tome has him as a complete innocent.

What surrounds the episode comments are the obligatory origins and introduction, "Blake's Millions" (A look at videos, fan clubs and the net), a brief Epilogue/Appendix and five essays on the show. This last element is perhaps the most contentious, and you can't always say that Muir argues his case well. In "A Futuristic Robin Hood Myth", for example, he informs us that "Significant also is the fact that Robin Hood is a legend of England, and that Blake's 7, is, of course, English in origin". I mean, so's me arse but it doesn't mean it's an intertextual discourse on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Likewise, in an article on "Sex on the "Liberator"" Muir talks about sex appeal in the show, at one point giving us "Sinofar's erect nipples are clearly visible throughout "Duel", though she is not defined as a sexual character by the teleplay." I mean, I'm sure Isla Blair was just cold - I doubt Douglas Camfield was breaking out the ice cubes for artistic merit. This is the kind of thing that runs throughout this section, with stretched supposition failing to be supported by adequate evidence (and for Spock's third solution, then this overlooks his actions in The Galileo Seven) and often fails to present counterpoints for each argument. "The Jurassic Arc" segues into a Babylon 5 slag-off (fair enough, but is it as focussed and relevant as it should have been?) and a final essay on special effects does, at least, make sense. Generally, though, this is probably the weakest element of the book and one that, five years on, I feel sure Muir would rethink.

For an overall view, then cast aside such quibbling and appreciate the book for what it is. If you're a fan who knows Blake's 7 inside and out and has their own theories on the show then you probably won't get as much out for it as someone less acquainted. But before using that as a benchmark to downgrade the book, bear in mind that that's not its purpose and you aren't the audience it was written for.