It's rumoured that when this annual was released it was shortlisted for The Booker Prize. However, the competition withdrew, claiming they wouldn't have a chance against it, and so Blake's 7 1980 was forced to stand down.
Okay, first the positive: the illustrations in this one are a big, big improvement. Okay, they're obviously drawn from source photographs, and Travis has a weird goatee affair going on, but these are vastly greater than the usual World product. (I note that the annual is this time credited to "World & Whitman" - relevant? Certainly, the final dire Annual reverted back to just "World", though that's another story...) In particular, illustrations on pages 11, 35, 39 and 46 are quite smashing little things. Sadly, presentation isn't quite as strong as the previous year, with 29 pages of single tone burgoundy or blue making this look extraordinarily dated in places. Worse still, while the stories are one less in number, the features have doubled to fourteen. Sadly, with "Space Facts", UFO Quizzes, Lunar Rocks and Constellations, only three are actually directly related to the programme, including Blake's "Space Race" game. They're informative, certainly, but hardly what a Blake-loving child would want in his Christmas stocking.
The stories, then. In some ways the crew dynamic of the Annuals is an interesting one, with Blake even more dominant, and Vil/Avon joint resisters. And although the absent Servalan is drawn with shoulder-length hair, Gan is missing from the line-up and Orac and Travis are present, proving that someone was paying attention. In fact, despite the Liberator being identified as a stolen Federation ship and Cally being able to read minds, the stories are startlingly accurate. And there's where I abruptly about-turn on my initial mocking judgement. Because, you know, some of the stories are actually quite good. Yes, the lines sometimes seem out of character, and their brevity means you find it hard to get involved, but some of the ideas and presentation actually feel a little like Blake, and the quality of writing is quite high for the target readership. I'm not saying they're literary masterpieces or anything, but I did actually stay awake, and even enjoy some of them. For the best, then I'm torn between the middle three, including one where Blake and Avon are frozen as live museum exhibits (okay, a little bit cliched, but this is a kid's Annual, cut it some slack!), a sabotage story with a tiny bit of politics, or one where they land on a planet of wraiths! Definitely the weakest is the concludings story, where Travis, sans eyepatch and with goatee, is fooled by the old "behind you" routine. Those titles in full: Planet of No Escape, Museum Piece, Sabotage!, A Task For Bondor and Red For Danger.
Where the first Annual eered on the lower side of three marks, this one is definitely - and surprisingly - on the higher side, almost touching a four. Yes, I couldn't believe it, either...