The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Blake's 7

Written by:
Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
First Published: 2003
Page Count: 230
Colour Photos: 1
B/W Photos: 20
Illustrations: 1
Availability: Try Amazon
Leatherbound Deluxe: Try Amazon

For completeness' sake, then the total page count of this book runs to 242. However, this includes some blank pages at the rear, as well as advertisements for other Telos books - the figure cited above relates to the Blake content.

The front cover illustration is by Dariusz Jasiczak, while the photography is by Andy Hopkinson, Andy Lazell and Steve Cambden, with one photograph taken from newspaper publicity sources.

For more information then you can read this site's Authors Interview, conducted back in June 2003.

Alan Stevens contacted me as a form of "Right To Reply" to the review below. You can read what he had to say HERE

Is it just me or does anyone else like to smell their books? It's just me, isn't it? I'm weird, I know. But when you get a lovely fresh book, all chunky white pages and stylish print, don't you just want a sniff? For the record, Liberation smells lovely.

Anyway, I did feel in a bit of a bind with reviewing this one. I once started a Guide to the updated version of randall and hopkirk, and was quite stern in my reviews. Then I found out the man behind that show, Charlie Higson, was reading the site on a regular basis for feedback, and guess what? The reviews got kinder. It wasn't that I intentionally sold out, or that I was under pressure, more that social convention was telling me to take a kinder eye when the guy was going to read every scathing remark I wrote. And so, we come to Liberation. Not only was the man behind the publishing company of this book, David Howe, kind enough to let me use his image of the cover, but he also set up an interview for me with the two authors for this site. So bearing in mind all three - authors and publisher - have shown a friendly attitude towards the Zone, would I feel awkward if I had to slag it off, knowing they'd also be reading said slag-off?

Thankfully, it's largely a hypothetical question, as I really liked it. Phew! While in the aforementioned interview I trumpeted it as a factual book (and it's listed as one on the Telos Website), it's more a collection of essays on the fictional side of each episode. This is no bad thing, and, whether you agree with the assertions made in those essays or not, then they should provide an interesting read.

Presentation is excellent - this is easily the best-looking Blake book I've ever seen. As this is an unauthorised work, then legal reasons mean that the cover is an illustration and that images used are usually shots of the props, or "during recording" snaps. This actually works a hell of a lot better than you'd expect, and instead of being a cumbersome A4 book crammed with cut and pasted images, the design and words hold the key, along with a neater A5 size. There's a contents page, index, nice use of the logo for page numbers, and the season listing conveniently printed in a black bar down the side.

With time of transmission, cast (even uncredited cast), ratings and chart position, this is after the Anorak Zone's own heart. However, one thing that threw me was the timing of the episodes. While from Breakdown onwards the book and this site seem to more-or-less agree, (fifteen match exactly, and for the rest, then what's a couple of seconds between friends?) the first run offers vastly different durations for the stories. Okay, maybe their timing of Space Fall was taken from the video edit, explaining why it's shorter than the Anorak's Guide claims, but Seek-Locate-Destroy is presented as nearly half a minute longer than it is here. Even later, with Aftermath, they state that it lasts for nearly a minute less than I do, or with Power, nearly a minute more. It's hardly a big deal, but worth mentioning. Was my video counter on the blink? Do they know something I don't? Just why have I seen two minutes of The Way Back that Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore apparently have not?

On the factual side, then production details are cursory, and the mentions of unmade episodes often reveal little beyond the projected titles. Occasionally the mix of subjectivity and objective evidence does get awkwardly mixed - witness an overview of season two's production described as "the second season comes across as confused and inconsistent." That's an opinion only, and has no real place in such a section. Similarly, the discussion of plot elements and characterisation are often blended with comments about substandard acting and direction, which seems at odds with the analysis of the fictional side of things.

As a study of the texts of Blake's 7, then Stevens and Moore perhaps fail to present counterpoints to their own arguments, and often push forward stretched speculation as accepted lore. Witness the unexpectedly high attention given to the characterisation of Gan. Now, while I agree it's interesting to surmise that he may have been a sex murderer, I always thought his lack of lines in each episode were because he's a crap character that no one wanted to write for, not that he's keeping quiet because seeing Cally and Jenna in danger gives him a pan handle. Intriguingly, while many psychosexual theories are placed around Gan, none match the classy and highly sophisticated observation about Breakdown from this very site: "Most of the time when he's supposed to be deranged his expression looks like he's having a wank." Freudian deconstruction? Read it and weep, guys!

So does this, as promised in the interview with the authors, deliver "the same sort of close analysis that, say, Doctor Who stories have been given by writers over the years, and it turns up some surprising things." Hmmm… yeah, probably. At date of writing the only Blake book I've yet to read is John Muir's academic study, so with that in mind, then for now Liberation is easily the best book I've read on the series. It perhaps excels most during season two, where clever mentions of the production order inform us why, for example, Gan has so little to do in his penultimate story. Season four's focus on script to screen also works well, even if over the book as a whole it becomes clear that the authors don't have much respect for the character of Vila, and often his portrayal. Actually, the stories themselves perhaps inform how good the review will be. While all merit more-or-less the same intention (only Ultraworld's one-and-a-half page analysis falling below the usual 2 ˝ - 3 pages) the shallower the story, the more unnecessary it makes the study seem. Sometimes this comes across as the authors trying to cram in as many intertextual references as possible to assimilate a "learned" work, and crashes badly in instances such as Hal Mellanby's continual bullshitting being laughably likened to Rashomon. There are also places where it could go further into academic study, and often the educated reassessment is just given lip service - why no mention of Kaplan's Post-Colonial Gaze when dealing with Dayna or the delegates in Warlord, for example?

Thankfully, with the stories that have more detailed texts then Stevens and Moore do fare better, and often bring up surprising plot elements and implications that you'd perhaps never considered. It is unfortunate that traditionally unpopular stories (yes, Animals) aren't given a fair chance at a reappraisal and that the means to denounce them is so traditional (yes, the Dayna/Justin age difference), though I guess you can forgive the authors if their views occasionally tie in with that of the majority of fandom.

However, while Liberation threatens a full five-star rating, what perhaps drags it back down more than anything is the appallingly disingenuous appendixes and the fannish Afterword. Now, bearing in mind that we're promised a cartoon series of Blake in 2004 (help!) and a mini-series sometime later, then this book may quickly become outdated anyway. But I've seen a lot of B7 fans convince themselves that major American productions want to reference Blake, including Galaxy Quest. Here we get an essay that seems to suggest every major US cult series of the last decade owes a debt to Blake, from Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Star Trek: Voyager. Most of it is extremely tenuous to say the least, and to suggest that Blake was the originator of such television devices as story arcs, character development, fourth-wall breaking and postmodernism (something Doctor Who was doing almost from its inception in 1963) elevates the series to a level it does not warrant, and makes the authors come across as a little silly. One of TV's most respected writers, Dennis Potter, is also linked in with Blake, while as for Holly of Red Dwarf being inspired by Orac, it's well known that s/he's a send-up of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Strangely, while I'll except the inclusion of Babylon 5, the one series that could arguably homage Blake - Deep Space Nine - has no mention, despite its invading aliens through a landmine-rigged passageway, or aliens that apply Ketracel White in almost identical fashion to the Mutoids and their blood serum.

Perhaps even worse are two appendixes, dealing with the original novels and audio plays. Little things niggle, like the fact that for a book heavy on research, the dual roles of the main cast are not listed in The Syndeton Experiment, or that the review of The Sevenfold Crown promotes the myth of schizophrenia as a multiple personality disorder. What really bothers though is how biting and bitch-slapping the reviews are - the excessively anal and vitriolic carve-up of Afterlife (a book which, since reviewing, I've found myself to be possibly the only person who likes it) takes the authors from would-be professionals and back down into fan writers. You'll probably find reviews on this site that log and categorise typos in novels, but this is a fan site produced for the fun of it - not a supposedly professional work that lets itself down by being petty minded.

If it seems like this section left a bad taste in my mouth, then it's because Appendix B is dedicated to Alan and Fiona's fan and professional audios, as well as a novel by Chris Boucher - all of which are glossed over by the authors refusing to offer analysis on them. Okay, you could hardly expect them to review their own work, but they maybe could have enlisted a guest reviewer for this segment. As it stands, it seems unsportsmanly of them to take pot shots at Attwood, Darrow and Letts, yet leave their own work immune to criticism. While it could be argued the Kaldor City novel and audios aren't Blake's 7 per se, The Mark of Kane and The Logic of Empire are far more related to the series than Afterlife or A Terrible Aspect.

A worthwhile and entertaining read, then, but certainly not without flaws. Despite all this, I still strongly recommend it.